State of Florida vs. Blake Michael Cowart
This unanimous decision reversed the lower court's order to dismiss charges of sending written threats to kill or do bodily injury to a child. It 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."
This Court reviewed the trial judge's decision and how they should define a "threat" to determine if a reasonable jury could have found guilt.
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 Snap to the school resource officer.
This Court also finds that Cowart's freedom of expression not was violated because the Snap was sent directly to Z.M. instead of publicly.
This Court determined these charges should not have been dismissed.
Cowart, a former student of North Marion High School (NMHS), sent a Snapchat to Z.M., who was a current student at NMHS.
The Snap Cowart sent 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 the Snap 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 agreed and dismissed the charges.
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