By Ashley Dunbar

On October 9, 2023, 3 Florida high school boys were charged with written threats to kill or do bodily harm and unlawful use of a two-way device for creating a group chat that included a “lethal hit list.” They created the group chat in response to being bullied at school.

In Florida, a person can be found guilty of written threats to kill or do bodily harm if the State proves the following elements:

  1. The Defendant made a threat to kill or do bodily harm to another person;
  2. The Defendant sent, posted, transmitted, or procured the sending posting or transmission of that writing; and
  3. The Defendant did so in any manner in which it may be viewed by another.

3 students create hit list of students to harm in florida school

The writing can be on paper, through text messages, emails, or even online. Based on the reading of the statute, even making a general post on social media that included threatening language, whether it was sent to the victim or not, can be considered a written threat. See O’Leary v. State, 109 So. 3d 874, 877 (1st DCA 2013). However, the State must still prove that the person had the mens rea to communicate a true threat. T.R.W. v. State, 363 So. 3d 1081 (Fla. 4th DCA 2023)

As for the charge of unlawful use of a two-way device, the State simply needs to prove that (1) Defendant used a two-way communication device and (2) he/she did so for the purpose of furthering the commission of a felony.

When it comes to these three boys, the first issue is how the school gained access to a private group chat in the first place. Although students have a lower expectation of privacy in school, they still have some 4th amendment protection that should bar private information from being obtained depending on the circumstances. Potential constitutional violations aside, the state will likely have a hard time proving that the boys had the requisite mens rea to communicate a true threat to another person. Considering how the group chat was obtained, it likely was not meant to be viewed by the public. Moreover, it’s possible that this group chat was solely meant to be a form of therapy and act of solidarity for the three bullied children. Likewise, the State will have a hard time proving the unlawful use of a two-way device charge if they cannot prove that that the boys ever intended to carry out the threats.

Overall, this case may seem to boil down to three troubled teenagers who needed to vent and a violation of privacy.

If you or a loved one needs the assistance of one of our Criminal Defense Attorneys, don’t hesitate to call us at 352-WIN-4YOU We are available 24/7 and we offer payment plans.