IM’ing at home lands student in juvie
Dylan Mardis “wanted Hannibal known for something.” He was a sophomore at Hannibal High School in Missouri. This is one of many IM comments 16-year-old Dylan made in 2006 to his friend, Carly Moore, age 14. They were both in their homes where they messaged each other about school, music, TV shows, and body piercings. Carly became concerned when Dylan began writing about being depressed over being rejected by classmate “L.”
Dylan wrote that he had a friend who had a 357 Magnum handgun. He said he was depressed and that he was thinking about bringing the gun to school and shooting certain students. When Carly asked him about “L” he responded that he still liked her and would let her live. Dylan admitted to Carly that he had been hospitalized and was “on all sorts of meds.” He named a particular classmate who “would be the first to die” and that he had a “desire to kill at least five classmates.”
Carly passed some of the messages on to an adult friend who notified the principal. The police were called and they interviewed Dylan and took him into custody. He was charged with disturbing the peace and found guilty. The juvenile court judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation and Dylan was sent to the hospital for several weeks. Between the evaluation and court proceedings, Dylan was locked up for 79 days. The school suspended him for the remainder of the school year. He returned to school the next year and obtained his GED.
Dylan’s parents filed a lawsuit against the school district for violating his free speech rights. In August, 2011, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Missouri determined that Dylan’s comments constituted “true threats” that “are not protected under the First Amendment.” * This was based on Dylan’s mindset at the time, his admitted access to a gun and the specificity of the threats. The court stated that “The First Amendment did not require the district to wait and see whether D.J.M.’s [the court used Dylan and Carly’s initials] talk about taking a gun to school and shooting certain students would be carried out.”
The court further stated that “One of the primary missions of schools is to encourage student creativity and to develop student ability to express ideas, but neither can flourish if violence threatens the school environment. . . . .These cases present difficult issues for courts required to protect First Amendment values while they must also be sensitive to the need for a safe school environment.” Dylan’s messages “violated the student code of conduct by causing ‘significant disruption and fear’ ” as well as presenting a credible threat to named students at school.
*D.J.M. vs. Hannibal Public School District #60, (*8th Circuit Court of Appeals, August 1, 2011) 2011 WestLaw 3241876.