A & B For P & J: Washington State High School Student Accused of Assault with a Deadly Peanut Butter Sandwich

Joshua Hickson, 19, appears by any measure to be an idiot. When he found out that a student at Wenatchee High School was severely allergic to peanuts, he repeatedly smeared a peanut butter sandwich on the student’s forehead. However, some people are objecting that he is now charged with criminal assault despite the lack of any injury or allergic reaction. He faces a year in jail if convicted of the misdemeanor. It could be a new addition to our criminal lexicon: Assault and Battery (A & B) with P & J.

There have been other criminal cases involving intentional exposures of people with peanut allergies.
An eighth-grader in Kentucky was charged with felony assault in April and in July a woman in Ohio was charged with assault for throwing peanuts at a man she knew was allergic to them. Recently, a woman sued American Airlines over such exposure.

While I generally do not agree with the increasing criminalization of school misconduct cases, I happen to agree with the Washington charge given the defendant’s age and the circumstances of this case. Hickson was repeatedly warned not to expose the student and could have killed him if he went into anaphylactic shock. A misdemeanor is just about right. He can also be properly sued in tort for assault and battery as well as the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

For a copy of the complaint, click here.

For the full story, click here.

12 thoughts on “A & B For P & J: Washington State High School Student Accused of Assault with a Deadly Peanut Butter Sandwich

  1. I have to agree that this was more than just a school stunt gone bad, but an assault with something that could have killed that student. I am amazed how man kids are allergic to peanuts. I wonder if there is any scientific knowledge as to why such a deadly allergy seems to be so much more common. Is there something in the environment that is causing it? I am sorry to get off subject, but this is something that was unheard of when I was young and now it seems to be much more common.

  2. Mens rea.

    He knew of the allergy and his intent was to harm. He is of an age where he could understand the potential consequences of his actions.

    The assault charge is appropriate.

    And I too, as a life long allergy sufferer, noticed that I have a lot more company than I used to when I was a kid. My personal theory is that the increasing toxicity of our environment creates feedback loops within the food chain. These loops manifest in many ways. With some humans it’s allergies. With frogs and other amphibians it can be life threatening physiological mutations. With some animals, it’s a behavioral side effect.

    This theory can also be used to explain why anyone would vote GOP at this point in history – lead poisoning. While that is a semi-joke, the rest of it is not. We as a species are killing ourselves by degrees. We are driving our own extinction (greatly aided by Washington and uncontrolled corporations). I think increased histaminic reactions are an “echo” of how we are dying. Slow poisoning will get us before global warming. The possible supervening event being nuclear war, of course, or more fascists in the White House.

  3. As someone who learned last week that an old friend from 40+ years back died two weeks ago at a faculty party (he was a professor at a Midwestern university) from a peanut allergy reaction, I have no doubt that the charge is justified.

  4. Nut allergies are really serious! I read about a child dying after eating a single raisin that had been in a bag of trail mix WITH peanuts. Why do people think food allergies are a big joke?

  5. PT said…

    Joshua Hickson, 19, appears by any measure to be an idiot.

    When he found out that a student at Wenatchee High School was severely allergic to peanuts, he repeatedly smeared a peanut butter sandwich on the student’s forehead

    Well, the attempted peanut butter poisoning aside, I’d have to concure with Professor Turley, that Mr Hickson is “by any measure”, an idiot.
    :|

    Specifically given the fact that Mr Hickson is 19 and still attending High School.

  6. Obama-samea,
    Your theory is interesting. I plead ignorance on the science end of it, but something has to be “causing” these changes. Could it also be that when kids were dying in the 50’s and 60’s from allergic reactions that they weren’t able to pinpoint the offending allergen? In any case it is a serious problem.

  7. Rafflaw And Obama,

    To preface this, I’m not an expert on this subject but I’m married to someone who’s more or less in the know (she’s currently working in the research part of one of leading Asthma hospitals in the world). So most of this comes from conversations I’ve had with her, but I’m being pretty careful to double check things. Also my explanations are pretty simplified and leave out most of the details about the mechanisms involved.

    Allergies are basically just your immune system attacking something that’s not an invading germ, that’s why they often have similar symptoms to common ailments (runny nose, sneezing, rash, etc.). In the case of peanuts the reaction can be pretty severe. In a number of common food allergies like milk and eggs, children will actually outgrow them as their immune system settles down. In fact 25% of all peanut allergy sufferers may out grow theirs. Here’s a good general guide to peanut allergies: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/peanut-allergy/DS00710

    My understanding is that one of the more strongly supported current explanations for the rise in allergies in general is called the “hygiene” theory. Since the modern child is exposed to way less dirt\germs\pollen in general their immune system doesn’t really know how to sort out the germs from the rest, so is more likely to attack the wrong thing. Here’s a pretty basic explanation of the hygiene theory: http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn9357

    Also conventional wisdom holds that there is a smaller occurrence of allergies in people who were breastfed. Breast milk contains the mother’s antibodies which help the child’s immune system to “learn” what it can safely ignore. Some more recent studies seem to refute that though.

  8. Rafflaw And Obama-S,

    To preface this, I’m not an expert on this subject but I’m married to someone who’s more or less in the know (she’s currently working in the research part of one of leading Asthma hospitals in the world). So most of this comes from conversations I’ve had with her, but I’m being pretty careful to double check things. Also my explanations are pretty simplified and leave out most of the details about the mechanisms involved. I can post links to a few articles later if anyone is interested.

    First off, only around 1-2% of people have peanut allergies, which is not huge. I think part of the seeming increase is just better media coverage combined with a greater chance of people actually being exposed to peanuts.

    Research has been done showing that Roasting peanuts can affect how the human body processes certain peanut allergens. Since this method is more common in North America than in other peanut eating parts of the world (China, India, etc.) this might help to explain the higher occurrence of allergies here.

    Allergies are basically just your immune system attacking something that’s not an invading germ, that’s why they often have similar symptoms to common ailments (runny nose, sneezing, rash, etc.). In the case of peanuts the reaction can be pretty severe. In a number of common food allergies like milk and eggs, children will actually outgrow them as their immune system settles down. In fact 25% of all peanut allergy sufferers may out grow theirs.

    My understanding is that one of the more strongly supported current explanations for the rise in allergies in general is called the “hygiene” theory. Since the modern child is exposed to way less dirt\germs\pollen in general their immune system doesn’t really know how to sort out the germs from the rest, so is more likely to attack the wrong thing.

    Also conventional wisdom holds that there is a smaller occurrence of allergies in people who were breastfed. Breast milk contains the mother’s antibodies which help the child’s immune system to “learn” what it can safely ignore. Some more recent studies seem to refute that though.

  9. Update from my wife:

    There’s also an interesting theory that says that due to a certain amount of interbreeding between strains of plants (wild and domestic) that didn’t previously have exposure to each other there are some “new” (to the human immune system) allergens entering into the picture.

  10. rafflaw,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t criminal assault essentially a failed battery?

    Mens rea = D’s knowledge of victim’s allergy and potential fatality of his actions

    Actus reus & corpus celecti = all over V’s face.

    Yes?

    BTW, I’m curious if there’s such a crime as ‘attempted assault;’ since it seems it would be an attempted attempt.

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