Saturday, May 30, 2009

Glee: The Downside of Extorting Your Students

Glee: Pilot
(aired May 19, 2009)

As the new head of the high school glee club, Will Schuester needs to recruit new students to join the club. His appeal to members of the football team is unsuccessful, so he plants marijuana on Finn, a student on the football team with a vocal talent for classic rock ballads. Mr. Schuester tells Finn that he won't report the marijuana possession (and place it on his permanent record) if Finn agrees to sing in the glee club. Finn denies possessing the marijuana but reluctantly agrees to Mr. Schuester's request.

Issue: Did Mr. Schuester commit a crime?

Law: Extortion is the obtaining of goods or services from a person by coercive means.

Analysis: Oh yes. Mr. Schuester planted drugs on Finn and threatened to report him if Finn did not do what Mr. Schuester wanted. These facts alone are enough to show extortion, but the offense is even clearer in this case because Mr. Schuester was also able to use his authority as a teacher to compel Finn's compliance.

Bonus: At common law, extortion applied only to public officials or people acting under the color of law. In most jurisdictions, extortion is now a statutory offense and applies to everyone, regardless of their official status.

Now assuming public schools existed at common law, it's arguable that Mr. Schuester was a public official, or at least acting under the color of the law, since he was a state employee and acting in that capacity at the time of this offense.


  1. What about the former teacher who sort-of forced the marijuana on Will in the first place? Was that a crime?

    Also, could Will get in trouble for not reporting the former teacher who admitted his drug dealing habit to him? Or the gym teacher, who Will knew to be a customer of said dealer?

    Also, isn't the real crime Finn's hair?

  2. Since my focus here is only on common law crimes, I didn't look at any drug offenses. But to answer your question, Mr. Ryerson distributed a controlled substance, which is a federal (and probably state) offense. Mr. Schuester then possessed a controlled substance, which is also a federal (and probably state) offense.

    I'd disagree with your suggestiong that Mr. Schuester was forced to take the drugs--at least not legally. Not really, Mr. Schuester could have dropped the drugs or ditched them right after Ryerson was out of the area. Now, had Ryseron coerced Schuester (e.g., gun to the head), then maybe but it still wouldn't excuse Schuester's conduct with Finn.

    Generally, there's no legal requirement to report crimes uunless they involve children or something like that. There could be a local law that required Schuester to report another teacher, but I don't know. (And I can't recall where this show takes place, so I can't do a quick check.)

    I think you could make a reasonable argument that Finn's hair is a public nuisance.