GAINESVILLE, FL (November 4, 2019) – Wcjb.com writes that the Alachua County Sheriff’s office arrested two students from Buchholz High School after the pair allegedly made a series of threats against their school. The fifteen-year-olds, who are not identified because they are minors, were both arrested on Monday prior to the start of the school day. The threats included gun violence and comments about shooting up the school. The threats were posted in a group chat text message, and a parent who heard about the messages contacted the police to report the disturbing comments. According to the police, one of the messages included a request for a map of the campus that the student said he or she would use to place explosives around the school.
The teens’ threats turned out not to be legitimate, but both are now facing charges for threatening a mass killing and for the use of a “two-way communication device to facilitate a felony.”
Florida Written Threats Laws
In Florida, the crime of “Written Threats” applies to threats of violence against a person, a person’s family, or threats of mass killings or terrorism that are composed in writing and then shown or sent to another person.
When a threat is made against a person or a person’s family, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant wrote a statement, the statement contained a threat to kill or injure a person or that person’s family, and that the defendant then sent that letter to the person who, or whose family is, the subject of the threat. The communication may be in the form of a letter, electronic communication, or inscribed.
To convict a person of Written Threats of mass shootings and or terrorism, the defendant must have written or recorded something containing a threat of mass killing or terrorism and then made that writing viewable to another person or other people. The threat can be in writing, or electronic, and the posting of it on social media, or sending the threat in a text message or email qualifies as allowing another person to see that threat.
Interestingly, the intent to actually cause harm is not required for a defendant to be convicted of the crime of written threats. The law has been the subject of several constitutional challenges that claim that it violates the First Amendment of the Constitution because it is vague and limits the freedom of speech. The court has rejected each challenge on the grounds that the law gives notice, and that threats of physical violence are not protected by the Constitution.
The crime is classified under Florida law as a second-degree felony. The penalty faced by those convicted of this crime includes a maximum of fifteen years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Defendants accused of this crime have numerous possible defenses, including factual disputes regarding the elements of the crime, arguments that the alleged threat was really just a figure of speech, and that the threat is not actually one of physical violence.
Given the severity of the crime, it is important that anyone accused of making Written Threats seek experienced legal counsel.