In Florida, it is a crime to make a threat to kill or cause bodily injury to someone or someone’s family member. In fact, it is a very serious second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison if the threat is communicated to the victim or his/her family in writing. With the popularity of social media and sites like Facebook, Twitter and many other sites that allow people to communicate with others over the internet, people should understand that “in writing” includes electronic communications. Therefore, a person could make a threat over Facebook to kill or injure someone and send it to the other person and face a serious felony charge as a result. These “written” threats are more serious than verbal threats under Florida law, and of course, generally easier to prove.
There are some limitations to this law. In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, a defendant sent out a post on Twitter saying he was going to shoot up his school. When someone sends such a post on Twitter, anyone following the author can see it, and those people can send the post to anyone else. In theory, anyone on Twitter could eventually see the post and where it came from.
Not surprisingly, this post made the rounds, and the kid who wrote and sent it was arrested for making written threats, but not before the school was notified, the students were evacuated and many police officers responded to the school.
While the defendant claimed the threat was a joke, the criminal defense lawyer defended the case on the theory that the Florida statute did not apply because the defendant did not send the threat to any victim or family member of the victim. To be guilty of this crime, the defendant must intend to send the threat to a victim of the threat or a family member. In this case, the defendant posted it generally on Twitter. There was no evidence that any of his followers on Twitter were faculty or classmates at his school. The school officials only found out about the threat after the threat was sent around Twitter and then came to the attention of law enforcement who informed the school. This law is only intended to deal with people who send the threats directly to their targets. General communications may not fall under this law. If the defendant had followers from his school on Twitter, the case would likely have been decided differently as they would have directly received the threat on Twitter.