[Editor’s note: San Marcos High freshman Amy Ransohoff’s entry earned second prize in the Santa Barbara County Bar Foundation‘s 2008 Law Week essay contest. The assignment was to write about the rule of law and answer the question, “Why is it important for us as individuals and for the communities and nations in which we live?” Ransohoff’s San Marcos classmates, Eli Harris and Dillon Kraus, placed first and third, respectively. Ransohoff’s essay appears below. Click here for Harris’ essay. Click here for Kraus’ essay.]

The rush of adrenaline quickly energizes the group’s members as they disperse in front of the darkened house. The adolescents scatter to their designated locations around the house, with their oddly shaped bags in tow. One reaches into her bag, withdrawing her unconventional ammunition. She bends back her arm and skillfully snaps it forward, releasing the object from her grasp; this is the initial throw that silently urges the other members of the group to follow suit. Soft sounds echo off the roof as identical objects dart across the nighttime sky. Suppressed giggles chime in with the rustle of tree branches. The adolescents wrap the front yard’s shrubbery with the extensive white trails of the toilet paper.

The initial thrower’s arm, bent and prepared for another throw, stiffens as she hears a faint noise coming from the house. She remains still and circumspect for a moment and then motions for her friends to depart hastily. Then, a weak stream of light is emitted through a window; its source is a flashlight. The light casts blurry shadows of fleeing teenagers against the fence. Their now empty and limp bags are wildly pulled across the yard. Within a moment, the shadows escape and assimilate with the surrounding darkness that occurs in the dead of night.

The following morning, the sun rises and shines upon the house that is striped with the unrolled toilet paper. Long white strands dangle from the roof, creating a wig for the freshly toilet-papered house. The front door squeaks as it slowly opens and a girl peeks out, surveying the astounding mess. She squints her eyes, for the lawn’s new décor is bright in the morning’s sunshine. Led by her fuzzy pink slippers, the girl steps out from the doorway and ventures down the steps of the porch. As she inspects the house’s state, a grin forms on her face. The grin becomes a smile, and then the smile gives way to a warm laughter. For a moment, the teenager stands in her yard laughing, surrounded by the wondrous, abstract artwork of her friends. Then, she goes inside, smiling.

The act that brought this girl, clad in her pink slippers, joy and surprise could have been considered an illegal one. The small assembly of peers that gathered in the front yard of the targeted house the previous night had trespassed onto private property. The intentions of this particular group of adventurous teenagers had been friendly, and the action had been well-received by the “victim.” However, nearly identical to this are sometimes the result of rebellious juveniles with cruel intentions. In that case, such acts are usually poorly received by the homeowner, who may not be associated with the pranksters. When a group commits the act of toilet papering a house, which is a popular affair among preteens and teenagers, the participants are at risk of being caught by authorities. Whether the act is one of friendship or one of malice, laws do not distinguish; both the friendly act of toilet papering and the malicious version could be viewed as trespass and possibly vandalism. However, society recognizes the difference. Laws are necessary to maintain order in a society, but thoughtful people are needed to evaluate circumstances.

Laws are created and enforced to protect citizens from danger and unfair situations. However, it is the authority — the police officers, judges and juries of the world — that must consider the circumstances of a situation. Laws are essential. However, equally as important are wisdom and consideration. Without such consideration, the girls who amicably toilet papered their friend’s house would receive the same punishment as those who hatefully toilet paper the house of a stranger. And yet, with no laws, those with desires to create harm and mischief would have nothing to worry about and would be able to create endless mischief. There is a balance within the rule of law; laws are the backbone to a functioning society, around which, wisdom and judgment can be attached.

Amy Ransohoff is a freshman at San Marcos High.