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Appeals court overturns Gogebic juvenile conviction

 

October 15, 2019



By RICHARD JENKINS

rjenkins@yourdailyglobe.com

Bessemer — A trio of judges with the Michigan State Court of Appeals recently overturned the conviction of local girl for messages she sent on social media.

The girl was one of four girls in a Snapchat group that included fantasies about killing a 13-year-old boy they didn’t like, as well as his gold fish and his dog — if he had one. The boy had picked on some members of the Snapchat group, according to the opinion.

One of the girls — identified in the opinion as JP - due to being a minor — was charged with breaking a law that makes it a crime to send text messages “intended to ‘terrorize, frighten, intimidate, threaten, harass, molest or annoy,’” according to the main appeals court opinion.

“Young teenagers sometimes make poor judgements born of impetuosity, immaturity and an inability to foresee the painful consequences of their actions,” judges Elizabeth Gleicher and Brock Swartzle wrote in their opinion published late last month.

The evidence at trial indicated the group never intended the boy to learn of the messages, according to the opinion, and the boy never actually saw the messages. He eventually learned about the existence of the Snapchat group, the opinion states, but only learned of the content of the messages from his mother.

Although the judges agreed it would have been fair to punish the members of the Snapchat group, they wrote it should have stopped short of criminal charges.

“The relevant facts in this criminal case include that none of the girls took any action intended to communicate the threats to (the boy). (He) was not invited to the Snapchat, and according to his testimony, he never actually read the texts,” Gleicher and Swartzle wrote.

In a concurring opinion, Swartzle emphasized how close the case came to a legitimate criminal case.

“This would have been a much different case, in my opinion, had respondent showed any of the messages to (the boy), or even had respondent learned that another person was going to show the messages to (him) and done nothing to minimize the harmful impact,” Swartzle wrote.

“Similarly, this would have been a much different case had (he) or even someone else outside of the group actually read the message (prior to the investigation), he continued. “The statute does not require that the purported target of the message be the one who is actually terrorized or frightened. One could envision a scenario where a parent is intentionally targeted and actually terrorized by comments threatening harm to the parent’s child, but there is nothing on this record to suggest that was the case here.”

The third judge to hear the case was Michael Kelly.

 
 

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