In the Interest of: J.J.M. (majority)Annotate this Case
Some time between mid-January and the early part of February 2018, K.S., a 14- year-old student at West Side Career and Technology Center (“WSCTS”), a vocational high school, heard appellant, a 15-year-old student at the school, say he “doesn’t think people deserve to live and everyone should just die.” Appellant’s second statement was made on February 20, 2018, six days after 17 high school students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were fatally shot. M.W., a 15-year-old classmate of appellant’s, overheard appellant say “[h]e wanted to beat the record of 19.” M.W. heard this statement from only two or three feet away while in the hallway between classes. Although appellant’s remark was not directed at her, M.W. was unsure whether he was “talking to someone [else], or [if] he just said it” aloud. K.S.,after learning of appellant’s “beat the record” statement secondhand, followed suit and reported what she had heard. The Commonwealth later charged appellant with terroristic threats pursuant to Section 2706(a)(1) and (3) of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, and disorderly conduct. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court observed it “remains an open question” whether the First Amendment to the United States Constitution permitted States to criminalize threats made in reckless disregard of the risk of causing fear. In this opinion, the Court resolved that issue, holding that the First Amendment tolerates a conviction — in this case, under Pennsylvania’s terroristic threats statute, for making a threatening statement even where the speaker did not intend to cause terror. However, after its de novo review of the record, the Court felt constrained to conclude the statements underlying appellant's adjudication, "though perhaps concerning to some because they were uttered in a school hallway only days after a deadly high school shooting," did not cross the constitutional threshold from protected speech to an unprotected true threat. The Court therefore vacated appellant’s adjudication of delinquency.