State of Florida vs. Blake Michael Cowart
This unanimous decision reversed the lower court's dismissal and allows the State to charge Cowart again. The ruling reads:
"The reasonableness of Z.M.’s perception of the post as a threat is a matter for a jury to determine."
The Court reviewed the trial judge's decision and the legal definition of a "threat". Citing past cases, they determined that in this situation a trial judge must:
- deny a motion to dismiss charges if a reasonable jury could find guilt
- limit themselves to consider whether the alleged facts are sufficient (not evaluate evidence).
A "threat" exists if it is “sufficient to cause alarm in reasonable persons.” It was reasonable for Z.M. to feel threatened. Supporting this conclusion, other students were alarmed enough to report the Snapchat to the school resource officer.
The Court also disagreed that Cowart's freedom of expression was violated because the Snapchat was sent directly to Z.M. instead of publicly.
The Court determined these charges should not have been dismissed.
At the time of the incident, Cowart was a former student and Z.M. was a current student at North Marion High School (“NMHS”).
Cowart sent a Snapchat to Z.M. The Snapchat showed a "scoped AR-15 rifle with an extended, large capacity magazine". It included the caption, “Show and Tell @NM on Monday.” Z.M. interpreted this as a threat. Cowart says it was a joke. Cowart was arrested and charged with sending written threats to kill or do bodily injury to a child.
Cowart asked for the charges to be dismissed. He argues he did not specifically threaten to kill or do bodily harm to Z.M. or Z.M.'s family. He also argues his right to free expression has been violated. The trial court allowed his charges to be dismissed.