State supreme court says student’s violent story is protected speech

WISCONSIN — The state supreme court ruled May 16 that a 13-year-old’sessay about beheading his teacher was not a criminal act.

The court overturned the disorderly conduct conviction of the OcontoHigh School student, identified in court records as Douglas D., sayinghis story “does not amount to a true threat.”Wisconsin v. Douglas D.,2001 Wisc. 47 (2001).

The story described a student named Dick who was kicked out of classby a teacher named Mrs. C. Dick comes back to school the next day witha machete, which he uses to cut Mrs. C’s head off after she tells him toshut up. Douglas D. wrote the story after his teacher, whose last namebegins with the letter C and is identified in courts records as Mrs. C,sent him into the hallway to finish a creative writing assignment.

The teacher showed the story to the assistant principal, who gave thestudent an in-school suspension and transferred him to another teacher’sclass. Police later charged him with disorderly conduct. Both a state circuitcourt and appeals court upheld the charge, ruling that the story constituteda true threat. He was sentenced to a year of probation.

The supreme court disagreed, ruling that in light of other elementsof the case, including the fact that the student wrote the story as partof a creative writing assignment, the story should be considered protectedspeech.

“Douglas’s story, although we find it to be offensive and distasteful,unquestionably is protected by the First Amendment,” Judge Jon P. Wilcoxsaid in the 6-1 decision. “Our feelings of offense and distaste do notallow us to set aside the Constitution.”

The court noted, however, that the school was within its rights to punishhim.

“The school had more than enough reason to punish Douglas for the contentof his story,” Wilcox said.

Furthermore, the court ruled that while Douglas D. could not be foundguilty of disorderly conduct for his story, the disorderly conduct statutecould still be used to punish the content of speech that constitutes a”true threat” even if it fails to create an actual disturbance.

A copy of the decision in Wisconsin v. Douglas D. is availableonline at: