Florida governor wants to increase penalties for threats to schools

But Jacksonville defense attorney says charges may not hold up in court

By Erik Avanier - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Two Clay County teenagers were arrested Friday and charged with making threats, but a local attorney argued that the way the law is currently written, there's a chance those charges might not hold up in court.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants to increase penalties for threats to school, but defense attorney Randy Reep pointed out a legal loophole.

Reep, who does not represent the teens, said threatening a school will disrupt classes, but unless the threat is directed toward an actual person, he maintains, the charge may not hold up in court. 

"There isn't a current law that protects schools. There's a law that protects public officials and there's a law that protects individuals. Part of that requires the threat to be to the individual," Reep told News4Jax. "So broad-brush threats that 'I'm going to do something at school,' under the current statutes, are probably not going to carry today."

Reep argued that if a threat is made against a school, then that particular charge by itself might not stick in court. According to Reep, the way the law is currently written, any threats would have to be directed at an individual so they could withstand any challenge. 

"Maybe the better example is, 'I’m going to make a threat against News4Jax.' That, by itself, may not be enough to charge me with a crime," he said. "If I’m making a threat to do bodily harm or worse to you, now it’s particularized and that constitutes a felony under the current statutes.”

In the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Scott announced on Friday that he wants to enhance penalties for people who post social media threats to schools. 

“What I’m more cautious (of) is the Legislature to do the knee-jerk reaction, to charge every child with a crime who says something that a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old may stupidly say," Reep said. "That is something to be concerned about. Not every dumb statement made by a kid should rise to the level of a felony.”

Again, Reep said, it will come down to what was actually said or written in the threat, and if a person was singled out in the threat. 

State law does allow school administrators to give out punishment to students who threaten schools. Reep believes the proposed enhancement of punishment might give school administrators the power to do more than simply suspend a child from school. 

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