The Washington State Court of Appeals recently affirmed a 13-year-old Oak Harbor boy’s conviction in a case involving an alleged threat against a school in 2018.
Following a bench trial last year, a judge found the boy guilty of harassment — threats to kill, which is a felony charge.
He was sentenced to three days of detention, 100 hours of community service and a year of community supervision.
According to a court document, a girl at North Whidbey Middle School was walking to class when she overheard the boy tell his friends that he was getting a gun and planned on shooting up the school.
The girl said she thought it was a joke until about a week later when the boy sent her an image on Snapchat of himself holding what appeared to be a handgun, with the caption “look what I got,” court documents state.
Snapchat is a cell phone messaging app.
The boy’s father later told police that it was a BB gun.
The boy admitted to sending the image but said he never made the threat to shoot up the school, according to court documents.
Attorneys representing the boy appealed the conviction, arguing that the judge lacked sufficient evidence to find him guilty of felony harassment or, in the alternative, that the court failed to prove he communicated a “true threat” as required under the First Amendment.
The Appeals Court found that the boy’s overheard comment, together with the photograph he sent to the other student, would constitute a knowing threat by a reasonable trier of fact.
Since the state law governing the crime of harassment criminalizes speech, the appellate court must conduct an independent and “exceedingly cautious” review of the record to determine if the boy’s speech was constitutionally protected.
The appeals court concluded that the boy’s words and action constituted a “true threat” under the law, which is not protected speech.