There is an interesting criminal case this week in Port St. Joe, Florida where Robert Paul Alexander Edwards, 33, is facing criminal charges for drawing a “disturbing” picture (shown below) on a student’s homework assignment. The interesting thing is that the police acknowledge that they do not believe that Edwards intended to take any violent action but they criminally charged him because the picture was “disturbing.” Of course, his mugshot shows that he is relatively indiscriminate on where he puts random pictures.
The drawing was a crudely drawn school house on fire with a person running from the flames and others standing in a line being shot (with the words “Pew, Pew, Pew” coming from the gun).
It was not revealed what the relationship was between Edwards and the student.
The lack of any evidence of intent did not appear to deter police. Sheriff Mike Harrison declared “Our country has been affected one too many times with horrific school tragedies. We take matters like this very seriously.” Accordingly, Edwards was charged with a written threat to kill or do bodily injury.
Yet, there was no indication of an intent to do violence or a directed threat other than the picture itself. The suggestion is that any violent picture constitutes a threat is an interpretation that sweeps quite broadly. Does this mean that any picture brought into a school can be the basis for a charge against a third party?
The case raises some troubling first amendment issues. I can well understand a serious call to the adult responsible and a visit from officers to determine if there was an actual threat. However, a criminal charge for a “disturbing picture” given to a child lacks a well-defined, limiting principle to protect free speech.
What do you think?