Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
In the First Amendment context, Doe defines a true threat as a statement that a reasonable recipient would have interpreted as a serious expression of an intent to harm or cause injury to another. The speaker must in addition have intended to communicate his statement to another. That element of a true threat is satisfied if the speaker communicates the statement to the object of the purported threat or to a third party.
Plaintiff student sent instant messages from his home to a classmate in which he talked about getting a gun and shooting some other students at school. The classmate and an adult contacted the principal. School authorities notified the police, who placed the plaintiff student in juvenile detention. The school district suspended the student for ten days and for the remainder of the school year. Plaintiff student, together with his parents, sued defendants school district and its superintended, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, alleging that defendants violated the student's First Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on the constitutional claims and remanded a state claim for administrative review. Plaintiffs appealed.
Did the defendants violate the student’s First Amendment rights?
The appellate court determined that the district court did not err in concluding that the student's statements were true threats not subject to First Amendment protection because, inter alia, (1) the student intentionally communicated his threats to a third party, (2) his speech could be reasonably understood as a true threat, combined with his admitted depression, his expressed access to weapons, and his statement that he wanted Hannibal "to be known for something," and (3) his statements were sufficiently serious. The First Amendment did not require the district to wait and see whether the student's talk about taking a gun to school and shooting certain students would be carried out. Also, under the substantial disruption analysis, the school had been substantially disrupted because of the student's threats.