J.A.W. v. State

Decision Date28 September 2016
Docket NumberNo. 2D15–4281.,2D15–4281.
Citation210 So.3d 142
Parties J.A.W., Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida District Court of Appeals

Andrea Flynn Mogensen of Law Office of Andrea Flynn Mogensen, P.A., Sarasota, for Appellant.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Kiersten E. Jensen, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, for Appellee.

KHOUZAM, Judge.

J.A.W., a juvenile, appeals his disposition for sending written threats to kill or do bodily injury under section 836.10, Florida Statutes (2014). He was found to have committed this delinquent act after he posted on Twitter that he was going to "shoot up" his school. Because J.A.W.'s threats were not sent directly to the alleged victims or their families as prohibited under the plain language of section 836.10, we are constrained to reverse.

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."

In these tweets, J.A.W. mentioned @Duhssault, a group of his friends who did not live in Florida and were not students at Sarasota High School. J.A.W. later maintained that the tweets were meant as a joke shared to this group of friends who often joked about being unfairly stereotyped as potentially violent based on their interest in video games and rock music. He expressed disbelief that anyone would take the tweets as a serious threat.

However, J.A.W. had not protected his tweets; therefore, the tweets were, by default, public.1 They had been broadcast to his followers, they could be found and viewed by anyone on the Internet (with or without a Twitter account), and they could be retweeted by any other Twitter user (thereby broadcasting them to all of that user's followers). One member of @Duhssault, @Glo, replied to one of J.A.W.'s tweets, mentioning several law enforcement agencies, news outlets, and public figures, including the FBI, CIA, Fox News, and President Obama. Though J.A.W. indicated that he believed the tweets would be private, he also acknowledged that they had been retweeted by "a bunch of people [with] like 40,000 followers." There was no evidence presented to show whether any of J.A.W.'s followers were students or staff at his school or members of their families. The tweets were discovered by an out-of-state watchdog group called GeoCop, who reported them to local law enforcement. Law enforcement viewed the tweets, determined that they referenced Sarasota High School, and relayed the threat to school officials. Once school officials were alerted, they devised a plan for safely dismissing the students. Law enforcement officers were stationed around the school to keep everyone safe. Law enforcement found J.A.W. at his home, which was located only several hundred feet away from the school, and took him into custody.

We must determine whether this evidence was sufficient to support J.A.W.'s disposition for sending written threats to kill or do bodily injury under section 836.10, which provides as follows:

Any person who writes or composes and also sends or procures the sending of any letter, inscribed communication, or electronic communication, whether such letter or communication be signed or anonymous, to any person, containing a threat to kill or to do bodily injury to the person to whom such letter or communication is sent, or a threat to kill or do bodily injury to any member of the family of the person to whom such letter or communication is sent commits a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

(Emphasis added.) We must construe this statute according to its plain and ordinary meaning; we cannot add words that were not included by the legislature. See Exposito v. State, 891 So.2d 525, 528 (Fla.2004). And because this statute is clear and unambiguous, we cannot look behind its plain language or resort to the rules of statutory construction in order to ascertain the legislature's intent. See Daniels v. Fla. Dep't of Health, 898 So.2d 61, 64 (Fla.2005).

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 statute specifies that it covers communications "to any person, containing a threat to kill or to do bodily injury to the person to whom such letter or communication is sent. " § 836.10 (emphasis added). The only intermediary third parties encompassed in the language of the statute are family members of the potential victim because the statute specifically includes threats "to kill or do bodily injury to any member of the family of the person to whom such letter or communication is sent. " § 836.10 (emphasis added); cf. Calamia v. State, 125 So.3d 1007, 1012 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013) (interpreting Florida's extortion statute, section 836.05, Fla. Stat. (2009), "to mean that the intent to compel is coupled with the intent that the communication, either directly or indirectly, reaches the coerced person" because the plain language of the statute requires "intent to compel the person so threatened, or any other person, to do any act or refrain from doing any act against his or her will." (emphasis added)). This court has explained that section 836.10 does not criminalize written threats that have not been "sent" to the person being threatened or a member of that person's family. See State v. Wise, 664 So.2d 1028, 1030 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995). The act of sending under section 836.10 requires both "the depositing of the communication in the mail or through some other form of delivery" and "the receipt of the communication by the person being threatened." Id. Twitter cannot be considered a "form of delivery" under the facts of this case because, even though he posted the tweets to a public forum, there is no evidence that J.A.W. directed the threat to the potential victims aside from merely referencing "my school." Moreover, the fact that the school received the threat, without more, is insufficient to support a finding that the threat was "sent" under the very limited language of the statute.

The State also suggests that J.A.W.'s conduct constitutes "procur[ing] the sending" because "[t]o ‘procure’ means to persuade, induce, prevail upon, or cause a person to do something." Fla. Std. Jur. Instr. (Crim.) 8.22. However, we believe that the definition of "procure" cannot be stretched to encompass J.A.W.'s conduct because it was J.A.W.'s Twitter followers, GeoCop, and law enforcement—not J.A.W. himself—who relayed the threat to the school. There was no evidence that any of J.A.W.'s Twitter followers were students or staff at the school or members of their families. By the time it was received by the school, the threat was several steps removed from its original context.

In O'Leary v. State, 109 So.3d 874, 877 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013), the First District applied Wise in the context of threats publicly made on social media and determined that threats posted on Facebook had been "sent" to all of the defendant's Facebook friends for purposes of section 836.10. O'Leary posted threats against his relative and her partner. Id. at 875. The post was viewed by a mutual relative who was Facebook friends with O'Leary. Id. The First District reasoned that the appellant had specifically requested the mutual relative to be his Facebook friend, and the mutual relative had accepted that request. Id. at 877. "By posting his threats directed to his family member and her partner on his Facebook page, it is reasonable to presume that appellant wished to communicate that information to all of his Facebook friends." Id. And because O'Leary's posts threatened a "member of the family of the person to whom" it was "sent," his post fell within the ambit of the statute. § 836.10 ; O'Leary, 109 So.3d at 877–78. The instant case is factually distinguishable from O'Leary because there was no evidence showing that J.A.W.'s threats were sent directly to any of the potential victims or their family members—rather, the threat was publicly posted on social media and relayed by nonfamily third parties to the potential victims.

We hold that the plain and unambiguous meaning of section 836.10 requires a showing that the threat was sent directly to the potential victims or their family members. Here, the State did not present any evidence that J.A.W.'s threat was received directly by any students or staff at Sarasota High School or any of their family members. Rather, J.A.W. publicly posted the threat, it was retweeted, it was discovered by GeoCop, and it was finally relayed to the school. Considering these facts, the receipt of the threat by the school was simply too far removed from the original context in which it was posted to support J.A.W.'s disposition for sending written...

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3 cases
  • In re Standard Jury Instructions in Criminal Cases—Report 2018-11
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • December 20, 2018
    ...Fla. Stat., that prohibits the sending of threats to a specific victim because it was not sent directly to the victims. J.A.W. v. State, 210 So.3d 142 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016). In response to J.A.W., the Legislature created an alternative way to commit the crime by removing the requirement that t......
  • Puy v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • April 15, 2020
    ...2d at 215.The version of the statute appellant was charged under resulted from an amendment following the decision in J.A.W. v. State , 210 So. 3d 142 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016). Prior to March 2018, section 836.10 stated:Any person who writes or composes and also sends or procures the sending of a......
  • State v. Cowart, Case No. 5D19-681
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • February 14, 2020
    ...in reasonable persons."We reject Cowart's argument that the trial court's findings are in accordance with the ruling in J.A.W. v. State, 210 So. 3d 142 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016), because that case is inapposite. In J.A.W., the issue was whether posting a Twitter "Tweet" constituted sending a commu......

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