A law on terroristic threats has been upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court after a challenge from a Hall County student accused of threatening a Columbine-like attack.
Devon Major, then a student at Lanier Charter Career Academy, was charged with terroristic threats after a September 2014 Facebook post that said he would get “the chopper out and make Columbine look childish.” Chopper is slang for gun, and the 1999 Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colo., killed 13 people. A school resource officer saw the post and notified the principal and law enforcement.
Public Defender Walker Rick, who was Major’s attorney, argued before the court in December that the post was a “statement of frustration” about overcrowding at the school.
Rick argued the terroristic threat statute is vague, overbroad and violates Major’s First and Fifth Amendment rights. He said the state must prove the post was intended as a threat.
Representing the Hall County District Attorney’s Office, Alicia Taylor argued the statement was a clear threat of violence.
“It is well established that recklessness requires a person to act with ‘conscious disregard for the safety of others,’” Justice Carol Hunstein wrote in the unanimous decision. “Therefore, contrary to Major’s assertions, recklessness clearly requires an analysis of the accused’s state of mind at the time of the crime alleged.”
The decision also notes that whether or not Major intended to carry out the threat, the speech is still considered a threat by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rick has left the public defender’s office, and Assistant Public Defender David Hoffer has taken over the case. Hoffer said Monday afternoon he does not plan to file a motion asking the Supreme Court to reconsider the case and will let it go back to the trial court.
“We are obviously disappointed in the result in the appellate courts,” Hoffer said. “We still have hope that the district attorney’s office will look at this case before deciding to proceed. Simply because the law is seen as constitutionally constructed does not mean that the prosecution of our client is a just application of that statute in this case.”
District Attorney Lee Darragh said his office plans to move forward with the case against Major now that the high court has issued its ruling. Judge Bonnie Oliver is currently slated to hear the case, but no timetable has been set for a trial.
“The decision was correct, and we will act accordingly in continuing to prosecute the case,” Darragh said.
Darragh said the case against Major will be prosecuted under an older terroristic threats statute that was in effect in 2014, but added he believes the terroristic threats charge against Major would also be constitutional under the new statute, which became law last year.
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield responded to the court’s decision.
“I never wish anything negative on any of our students or any of our employees,” Schofield said. “But, with these uncertain times that we live in, we always have to land on the side of doing everything we can to keep people safe.”