California Case Law on Juvenile Criminal Threats

In In re George T. (2004) 33 Cal.4th 620, a high school student was charged with making a criminal threat under Penal Code section 442 after writing a poem a fellow student perceived as containing threats to her. (George T., supra, 33 Cal.4th at pp. 624-625.) When the juvenile court found the criminal threat allegation to be true, the high school student contended on appeal that his poem was subject to First Amendment protection. (Id. at p. 630.) In concluding that the poem was protected speech, the Supreme Court determined that it did not constitute an "unequivocal" threat under section 442, as its language was ambiguous, and there was otherwise no history of animosity between the students. (George T., supra, at pp. 630-639.) In In re Ryan D. (2002) 100 Cal.App.4th 854, a police officer arrested a juvenile for possession of marijuana. (Ryan D., supra, 100 Cal.App.4th at pp. 857-858.) The juvenile painted a picture of himself shooting the officer and submitted it as an art project in his high school painting class. (Ibid.) Reversing the juvenile's conviction for making a criminal threat under section 422, the appellate court concluded that the painting did not constitute an "unequivocal" threat to the officer, as there was no evidence the juvenile intended the officer to see or learn of it. (Ryan D., supra, at pp. 860-862.) In In re Ricky T. (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 1132, a juvenile cursed at a teacher and said, "'I'm going to get you,'" after the teacher accidently hit him with a door while opening it. (Ricky T., supra, 87 Cal.App.4th at p. 1135.) The appellate court concluded there was insufficient evidence that the remarks constituted an "unequivocal" threat under section 422, as the juvenile apologized for the remarks and had no history of misconduct toward the teacher. (Ricky T., supra, at pp. 1137-1138.)