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Judge: Teen's tweet to 'shoot up' high school not against the law

Ruling: 1913 law needs update for social media
Posted at 10:59 PM, Sep 29, 2016

In 2014, a Sarasota High School student was arrested and charged with a felony count of “sending written threats to kill or do bodily injury.”

But, because the tweet wasn't sent to a specific person, the current law on the books has no language in it making the tweet illegal.

A judge in the 2nd District Court of Appeals wrote in his opinion that “the plain language of section 836.10 makes clear that it only applies where a threat is sent directly to a specific victim or a member of that person’s family.”

The student, who was 16 at the time, thought his tweet’s were private. His lawyer, Andrea Mogensen, told ABC Action News that what the teen wrote might have been negligent and stupid, but it didn’t violate the law and was taken out of context by law enforcement.

“He was talking in a group of twitter followers that actually joked about themselves because they were gamer nerds, young kids that like to play games and do video games and listen to the dark music and things they frequently joked about how everyone thought those were their preferred social activities there was something wrong with them that they would be the next school shooters and it was all kind of a self deprecating humor,” Mogensen said.

But, the teen’s tweet was re-tweeted, then picked up by GeoCop a group that scours the web looking for threatening tweets. They sent the information to law enforcement who then tracked down the teen.

“We are going to say things that are stupid, say things that probably aren't the smartest thing as far as well being,” Mogensen said. “When people say things that other people think might be fearsome and the police come rushing into your home and all you are doing is doing your homework, as this young man was, that is a little bit problematic especially for our students because they don't have as good a judgment.”

In the 9 page decision the judge wrote that “the legislature may wish to revisit section 836.10 to address the modern problem of threats issued and shared publicly on social media.”

Mogensen said she took the recommendation by the judge as a good thing to “a police state does come when the police tell you what you can and can not say."

Here is the full text of what the teen tweeted.

The record shows that J.A.W., a student at Sarasota High School, posted the following tweets over a span of several days:
"can't WAIT to shoot up my school";
"it's time" (this tweet included a photo of a gun being put in a backpack);
"My mom and dad think I'm serious about shooting up my school I'm dying";
"school getting shot up on a Tuesday";
"night f[***]ing sucked can't wait to shoot up my school soon";
"I sincerely apologize to anyone who took me seriously. I love my high school and honestly own no weapons to want to harm anyone in any way."