Ignorance is No Defense: Speaker educates community on GA law

Did you know that a police officer can arrest a teen just because her breath smells like alcohol? Thanks to attorney and author of Ignorance Is No Defense, J. Tom Morgan, Westminster’s student body is ignorant no longer. With a smile and some frank humor, Morgan laid out the law with language that was easy to understand.

He started with a story about two teenagers, ages 14 and 15, who accidentally bumped each other in the hallway. With their macho sense of pride offended, the boys arranged a fight. However, when one boy came to his senses and tried to back out, his “friends” insulted him mercilessly, calling him a sissy and wimp until he gave in. The catch: the other boy had a knife.

“His mother said goodbye to him that morning, and the next time she saw him, he was in a casket,” Morgan said. “It’s better to be a coward for a minute than dead for a lifetime.”

Morgan focused on what he calls the “SAD” crimes: sex, alcohol, and drugs. The stories about students’ futures being jeopardized by alcohol struck a chord with the student body, especially with the gravity of the school’s crackdown on drinking ringing in its memory.

“The DUI rate for your generation is half what it was for my generation, which is good,” Morgan said. “But be careful, and don’t allow anyone in your car with alcohol on their person.”

Subsequently, Morgan warned about the dangers of sexting, urging prudent usage of technology.

“Don’t take your clothes off in front of anyone with a camera unless you want to see yourself on the Internet,” Morgan said. “Just ask Miley Cyrus.”

The audience’s strongest reaction came when Morgan told the story of a 17-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl who had a summer fling. The girl’s parents found out, and the boy ended up going to jail. Why? She had lied about her age: she had only been 15.

“I told my son, ‘Use protection and get a birth certificate,’” said Morgan.

The last major topic was drug use. Morgan talked about marijuana and other illegal drugs and asserted that, even though marijuana’s illegal status is controversial and presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have admitted to past marijuana use, its use can still lead to health and legal problems.

“If you don’t like the law, work to change it, don’t go break it,” Morgan said.

Morgan also addressed the unhealthy trend of students taking ADHD medication without a prescription in an attempt to increase their test scores. He emphasized that using these pills is not only illegal and dangerous but fails to produce the expected results.

“If you haven’t been studying, a pill won’t change stupid to smart,” Morgan said.

Students had varied reactions to the assembly. Many students liked the speaker, but didn’t believe the talk would have a significant impact on the students.

“I liked his stories, but I don’t think he’ll change anybody’s opinions,” junior Porter Adams said.

Moreover, some upperclassmen were also less receptive to his message,  which they had already heard.

“He’s always engaging,” senior Eka Dvalishvili said. “But after three years, there isn’t a lot of new information.”

Still, many students gained valuable knowledge that could make a positive difference in their lives. The majority of sophomores and freshmen learned about the serious repercussions of certain decisions they could have made if not for Morgan’s speech.

“I learned a lot about the laws that can affect me,” said sophomore Connors Knight.

Morgan worked for the DeKalb County district attorney’s office for more than 20 years, including 12 years as DA. His work concerning the criminal prosecution of minors has brought him national recognition, and he cites Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird as his inspiration.

Morgan has connected with so many students that he has actually reached the friend limit on Facebook. Ultimately,  Morgan rejects the idea that students aren’t mature enough to have an honest and frank discussion about sex, drugs, and crime, and he offers his own prescription.

“What I say is, let’s be honest with our kids and see if they can make better choices,” Morgan said. “You are our future leaders. Don’t jeopardize everything with a stupid decision.”