Wis. supreme court delivers mixed opinion


Student's story about killing teacher is not a 'true threat'





WISCONSIN -- A student's creative writing assignment describing\nthe killing of a teacher is not a "true threat," the\nstate supreme court ruled in May, overturning the author's conviction\nfor disorderly conduct.

The ruling brings to a close a case that began in 1998 when\na student, identified only as "Douglas D," wrote a story\nfor a creative writing assignment about a student named Dick who\ndecapitates his teacher with a machete. Douglas was convicted\nin juvenile court of disorderly conduct after his teacher told\npolice she felt threatened by the story.

"While we believe that Douglas' story is crude and repugnant,\nwe nonetheless must reject the State's argument," said Justice\nJon Wilcox, writing for the court, in finding that the story did\nnot constitute a "true threat."

The court, however, found that pure speech, including writing,\ncould be considered disorderly conduct, although not in this case.\nEileen Hirsch, a public defender representing Douglas, said it\nwas unfortunate that the court broadened the scope of the law\nto prohibit some pure speech. Several justices wrote separate\nopinions echoing those concerns.

Assistant Attorney General Jeff Kassel, however, said the court\nwas right to say that disorderly conduct laws should cover true\nthreats because Wisconsin lacks a law that specifically prohibits\nthreats.

"We have construed 'disorderly conduct' to proscribe some\ncategories of constitutionally unprotected speech," Wilcox\nsaid. "The state is not barred from convicting Douglas for\nthe content of his story merely because his story consisted of\npurely written speech."


Fall 2001, reports