Can A Florida Student Face Criminal Charges For Online Threats Against Their School?
A new social media challenge circulating on Instagram and TikTok encourages middle and high-school age students to make threats of violence or terrorism directed towards their own schools. A student in San Antonio, Texas was arrested in September 2021 for making felony terrorist threats on Instagram. In Pembroke Pines and Plantation, two students were arrested after making threats online towards other students and teachers at their respective high schools. Broward County Public Schools recently launched a social media campaign designed to educate students about the seriousness of online conduct and digital citizenship. What exactly is a felony terrorist threat? What are the repercussions for students engaging in this behavior?
What is a Felony Terrorist Threat?
In Florida, a felony terrorist threat is a written or electronically transmitted threat to “kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism or punishment.” For the purposes of the statute, a written communication includes a text, instant message, social media post, and can also include graphics, video, audio, or even a Gif represented in digital form. The statute indicates that is unlawful for a person to transmit, send, or post language or writing that could be construed by another person as a threat to kill or cause bodily harm to another person, or “conduct a mass shooting or other act of terrorism.” Fla. Stat. § 836.10 (2021).
Because of the nature of the crime, the FBI or federal authorities may be called into investigate the legitimacy of a threat. If a threat is made on social media from a student in one state to a school, student, or individual in another state, the federal government would have jurisdiction to charge the defendant with a federal crime. Making a felony terrorist threat is a second-degree felony in Florida, and a convicted defendant could serve up to 15 years in prison. Fla. Stat. § 775.082 (2019). A minor at least 14 can be charged as an adult if the prosecutor chooses to “direct file” and transfer a juvenile case to the adult penal system.
What Are the Criminal & Civil Repercussions for Students & Minors?
A minor student can be expelled for making a felony terrorist threat against another student, teacher, administrator, or the school itself. Due to the nature of the charges, even if the charges are dropped, another school district may be unwilling to allow the student to register to attend. This could be devastating to the student’s academic, social and professional development, further hampering their ability to seek higher education or advancement opportunities as an adult. In addition, a student could be subject to civil litigation if an online threat was perceived as imminent bodily harm by the victim, even if criminal charges are dropped. If convicted, the juvenile may have trouble obtaining employment (even entry-level) after release because of their records and the violent nature of the crime.
Contact West Palm Beach Student Crimes Lawyer William Wallshein
Young students and adolescents can get caught up in a new fad or succumb to peer pressure more easily than we realize. Many social media challenges become increasingly more dangerous with criminal and health and safety repercussions. It is important you discuss internet safety and digital citizenship with your children before something like this occurs. If your child has been accused of making threats to another student, teacher, or their school, it is critical you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Attorney William Wallshein has practiced criminal defense for more than three decades in Palm Beach County and specializes in student crimes. Call West Palm Beach criminal lawyer William Wallshein today to schedule a free, confidential consultation.