Law School Case Brief
In re George T. - 33 Cal. 4th 620, 16 Cal. Rptr. 3d 61, 93 P.3d 1007 (2004)
The Supreme Court of California has made clear that not all threats are criminal and has enumerated the elements necessary to prove the offense of making criminal threats under Cal. Penal Code § 422. The prosecution must prove (1) that the defendant willfully threatened to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, (2) that the defendant made the threat with the specific intent that the statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out, (3) that the threat - which may be made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device - was on its face and under the circumstances in which it was made, so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, (4) that the threat actually caused the person threatened to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family's safety, and (5) that the threatened person's fear was reasonable under the circumstances.
Fifteen-year-old George T. (minor) had been a student at Santa Teresa High School in Santa Clara County for approximately two weeks when, on March 16, 2001, he handed a poem labeled “Dark Poetry” and entitled “Faces” to his two classmates. In the poem, it was said that the protagonist was evil and could be the next kid to brings guns to kill students at school. Thereafter, a petition under Welf. & Inst. Code, § 602, was filed against the minor, alleging that the minor made criminal threats in violation of Cal. Penal Code § 422. The court adjudicated the minor a ward of the court and ordered a 100-day commitment in juvenile hall. The Court of Appeal, Sixth Dist., No. H023080, affirmed the juvenile court in all respects, with the exception of remanding the matter for the sole purpose of having that court declare the offenses to be either felonies or misdemeanors.
Did the poem in question contain criminal threats?
Upon review of the record, the Court reversed the judgment, concluding that the ambiguous nature of the poem, along with the circumstances surrounding its dissemination, failed to establish that the poem constituted a criminal threat. The court stated that while the protagonist in "Faces" declared that he had the potential or capacity to kill students given his dark and hidden feelings, he did not actually threaten to do so.
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