Friday, October 25, 2002
High School Student’s Poems Constitute Criminal Threat, C.A. Rules
By ALLISON LOMAS, Staff Writer
A student’s poems in which the speaker threatened to shoot his classmates and referred to himself as evil, constituted criminal threats and were not protected by the First Amendment because they could substantially disrupt school activities, the Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The defendant, referred to by the court as George T., a sophomore at Santa Teresa High School in San Jose, was convicted in April 2001 of two counts of criminal threat for poems that he wrote and gave to other students.
George T., known by his friends and family as Julius, was completing his first full week at his new school when, according to Justice Nathan Mihara’s opinion, he handed a written work with the words “dark poetry” on the top line to a student in his honors English class and to another acquaintance in March 2001.
Both girls, who were mere acquaintances, became upset when they read the poems in which the narrator referred to himself as “dark, destructive & dangerous” and called himself evil. In one poem, “Faces,” Julius wrote “I can be the next kid to bring guns to kill students at school” and warned parents to watch their children “cuz I’m BACK.”
The girls, identified as Mary and Erin, testified at the April 2001 trial before Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Nazario A. Gonzales that they felt personally threatened by the words.
Julius, then 15, was arrested by San Jose police at his uncle’s home only a few days after giving the poems to the girls, his attorney Michael Kresser, the executive director of the Sixth District Appellate Program, said.
Julius was committed in May of last year to 100 days in juvenile custody, in addition to the 2 months he had already served prior to the dispositional hearing. Thirty days after he was sentenced he was allowed to return to his home under electronic monitoring, Kresser said.
He had been living with his uncle at the time of the incident, but is currently living with his father and is no longer attending Santa Teresa, Kresser explained.
Kresser also said that Julius was made a ward of the court and placed on probation until he turns 18. Julius appealed the verdict, even though he had completed his sentence, because he could be incarcerated for violating his probation in the future, his attorney said.
The court did remand the case to determine whether Julius had been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony, a decision the trial court had neglected to make.
Justice Conrad Rushing wrote a dissenting opinion in which he agreed with Julius and his attorney that there was insufficient evidence that the boy had intended to make a threat or that the girls’ fear was reasonable.
In his dissent, Rushing reviewed the poem “Faces” line by line and concluded that Julius, a new student at the school with few friends, gave the poems to the girls because he wished to share his feelings and possibly make new friends, not to threaten them.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company