A Florida middle school student who cursed an administrative assistant and told her that “something bad” was going to happen to her that day did not commit an assault under state law, an appellate court has ruled.
The 3rd District Florida Court of Appeal in Miami threw out an adjudication that the juvenile was guilty of assault. The student, identified as H.W., became upset in 2009 when called to the office over an earlier infraction at Parkway Middle School in the Broward County school district.
According to court papers, the student called administrative assistant Gladys Jones a “bitch” and used other obscenities as he paced back and forth in an angry tirade. He returned to the school office a short time later and cursed Jones some more, then said something bad would happen to her “that day.”
By that time, the school’s security officer was nearby, and he later testified that he heard the student tell Jones, “You’re going to die today, bitch. Something’s going to happen to you after school, you watch.”
H.W. was charged with assault on a school official, and a juvenile court judge found him guilty. But in its Feb. 1 decision in H.W. v. State of Florida, the three-judge appellate panel ruled unanimously that the state had failed to prove one of the three essential elements of the crime of assault.
Under Florida law, an assault “is an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.”
The court said the state failed to prove the last element, that the student had created a fear of imminent physical harm.
“Although there was sufficient evidence to support a finding by the trial court that H.W. made an intentional, unlawful threat, and even that Jones had a well-founded fear,” the court said, “H.W.'s words did not create a well-founded fear that he would do something to Jones at that time.”
The appellate court ordered the trial court to dismiss the assault charge. It doesn’t appear from the opinion that H.W. was charged with making a threat against Jones. It’s also not clear from the opinion what form of school discipline the student faced as a result of the incident.
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.