Court to weigh in on teen's violent poetry


Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 10:22 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO - A teenager who was expelled and convicted of a crime for writing violent poetry at school has taken his case to California's Supreme Court in a dispute over the limits of free expression in a post-Columbine world.
Five of the seven high court justices agreed Wednesday to hear the case involving George T., who was 15 when he was expelled from Santa Teresa High and prosecuted under a criminal threats law.
The San Jose boy, whose name has been withheld because he is a minor, was sentenced to 100 days in a juvenile hall in 2001.
In the boy's poem, he threatened to bring guns to school and kill students. His attorney, Michael Kresser, said the boy's prosecution was an exaggerated response to student attacks such as the 1999 Columbine High bloodbath that left 15 people dead.
Kresser said Thursday that the poem was artistic self-expression and that George T. was prosecuted for thoughts, not actions.
"Freedom of speech and expression to express unpopular or disturbing thoughts is guaranteed by the First Amendment against all state action," Kresser said.
The high court did not indicate when it would hear the case.
In the poem, titled "Faces," he wrote: "I slap on my face of happiness but inside I am evil! For I can be the next kid to bring guns to kill students at school."
He gave the poem to at least two students, one of whom notified a teacher, who in turn called police. Authorities later found other works that read: "Probably I would be the next high school killer."
His juvenile court conviction was upheld by an appeals court, which found it reasonable to assume the boy could immediately act on his writings.
Violet Lee, the California prosecutor who defended the conviction before the appeals court, did not return calls for comment.
The challenge is California's second case in a year dealing with similar free speech implications.
Last year, a state appeals court overturned the same type of conviction for a boy who drew a picture of a police officer being shot in the head. That boy was previously arrested by the officer on drug-related charges.
The appeals court said there was no immediate threat of harm to the officer.

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