Buting ,Williams & Stilling ,S.C. | A Criminal Defense Law Firm

Call Today for a FREE Consultation


Indiscriminate school expulsion and prosecution of teens is wrong solution.

by | May 30, 2018 | Criminal Defense

Teens charged with making terroristic threats after joke about school shooting goes public.

Teen arrested after calling wrong number with prank school threat

Headlines like these are on the news almost every day as the country assesses how to effectively protect students at every level from elementary school through college. In Wisconsin, the legislature passed a law in 2015, Sec. 947.019 entitled Terrorist Threats, which makes it a felony to threaten to cause death or great bodily harm to any person or to damage any persons property if the actor intends to cause an evacuation, public inconvenience, panic or fear, or the interruption of governmental services. Other states have similar laws.

In recent weeks there has been a marked increase of cases where this law is being used to prosecute teens in high school. Adolescents who mistakenly think their words will remain private, may discover that the threats have been blasted all over the internet and that they are now the focus of a criminal investigation. Teens simply blowing off steam or making a joke can find that their words have an unexpected dramatic and negative impact. Some teens are being prosecuted for statements made weeks or months ago as people reevaluate them after the tragic shooting in Florida.

Because of well-documented developmental issues, adolescents are especially apt to say things without thinking carefully about the ramifications. The United States Supreme Court has observed what every parent knows, that teenagers generally have a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility.(Roper v. Simmons, 2005).

Research shows that adolescents are capable of making rational decisions, but in highly charged situations the more developed emotional center of their brains often wins over the still immature reasoning system. Thus, many of these threats occur in situations where the teen is upset, egged on or attempting to get attention from peers. Under emotionally charged circumstances, kids unwittingly say things that others may perceive more ominously. Educating kids about the horror their peers have experienced from gun violence may diminish such offhand comments but probably won’t eliminate them. Because of their immaturity, teens may continue to say things that sound threatening when they are upset or goofing around.

However, a blanket policy of prosecuting all adolescents who make statements that arguably fit the broad definition of a terrorist threat is not the answer and is dangerous to the health and safety of our teens. Creating hundreds or thousands of convicted felons for statements made in jest will forever diminish their chance to reach their full potential as adults. Employment, education, and housing opportunities will all be restricted, possibly for the rest of their lives, for these adolescents who over time would have matured out of this impulsive stage of life. School expulsions may actually aggravate the problem, by socially isolating teens and potentially provoking a motivation for revenge where none previously existed.

That is not to say that such remarks should be ignored. Encouraging students and adults to report such statements gives school authorities and law enforcement a chance to intervene and assess the risk. The question is how best to intervene and assess the individual student and the issues underlying the statements, rather than overreacting to statements that may not be true threats.

One way would be to develop assessment tools that school and law enforcement can use to judge whether an individual youth poses any real danger. There are many areas of life in which professionals assess risk through interactions with individuals. One example is the highly successful Israeli security program through which travelers are interviewed to assess risk. Surely, talented educational psychologists could develop interview questions to reveal those teens who are at greater risk to act on a threatening statement. Talking with the student and the parents could reveal problems at home or at school that could be resolved so that the student is able to successfully complete the school year instead of being expelled and prosecuted.

We should learn how to separate the serious from the non-serious threat. Doing so would provide more safety to the community and students than the current path followed by too many schools and law enforcement in the wake of the Florida tragedy.

Practice Areas

“I just want to say thank you for the outstanding work you have done for him and let you know how much we appreciate the time and attention you gave to his case. We are obviously overjoyed by today’s dismissal!” (Child pornography case dismissed after motion to suppress was granted)”

“After having had time to exhale, we thank each one of you and all the others who contributed to the exemplary Supreme Court presentation. We are proud of your efforts on our behalf and, equally important, on behalf of the many present and future defendants statewide.” (Client’s comment after Supreme Court oral argument)

“Thank you. Thank you. I am so pleased to hear that we won. It doesn’t seem that it was even a close call. I appreciate your efforts.” (Oconto County defendant after Buting, Williams & Stilling got his prison sentence overturned in the court of appeals) ”

“Your time and advice was appreciated more than words can express at a time when we really needed someone to guide us.” (Client)

“The outcome was amazing, one unavailable even under identical circumstances in probably 98 percent of federal courtrooms around the country. Separate and apart from the outcome, though, I am supremely impressed by your efforts on your client’s behalf. Your comments in support of the requested sentence were perfect in tone and, having now reviewed the extensive sentencing memorandum you filed, your work in that regard was exemplary as well. Your client was certainly fortunate to have you as his attorney.” (Local federal court attorney present at a sentencing)

“I can’t thank you enough, not only for all of the tireless work that you and your staff put into my case, but for telling me what I needed to hear, at a time when I absolutely had to hear it. I consider myself blessed for everything turning out the way it did, especially since I blindly picked you out of a phone book! You helped me, my family and friends in many more ways than the money ever could.” (Child pornography client)

“I think you will find that in any circles where Kathy’s name is raised, people will always respond positively and identify her as an extremely hardworking, knowledgeable and ethical lawyer who is timely and effective with any endeavor she takes on. These circles would include colleagues, friends, prosecutors, judges, professors and others who have crossed paths with Kathy. They would also include the many lawyers like me who have referred numerous cases to Kathy, invariably with positive feedback from the clients regarding her knowledge of their case, empathy, professionalism and fair-mindedness in addressing their concerns.” (Fellow attorney)

“Thank you for giving [our son] back to us. Wonderful work!” (Family of client accused of armed robbery after charges were dismissed)

“Yes, His perfect time and perfect place, you were a part of this plan. I almost didn’t hire you, but I took a step of faith trusting Him and look what happened? Praise God. Our Lord put you in your vocation for a reason, continue to help those He brings your way. May He bless you in ALL you do!” (Client who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in a northwestern Wisconsin county. He was released from prison after attorneys got his conviction reversed.)

“I really cannot thank you enough for your past help. You really know your stuff. It is actually funny when I think about my other past attorney’s knowledge and then when I talk with you. It’s like night and day. You’re like a walking book of knowledge with a purpose-driven life. Thanks.” (Brown County client of attorney Buting)

“A year later and I still believe your defense is the single best example of lawyering I have ever seen.” (Television reporter commenting on attorney Buting’s defense of Steven Avery)

“You have a certain brilliance that makes me sure that when you talk, it is good information and I am in good hands. You tell it to me like it is even when the things you say are not always the things that I would like to hear. You keep it REAL!!!” (Brown County client)

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel like this was one of the biggest blessings that happened in my life. I put this along with my children being born healthy and when I survived that horrific shooting. I appreciate everything you have done for me. I couldn’t ask for better lawyers. I want to say thank you to everybody at your firm. I owe you more than the fee you so rightfully deserve. … You gave me back hope. Thank you, man! Out of my 36 years … I have never seen such kindness before. I don’t know what I did to deserve this; I’m very thankful nonetheless. Thank you for giving me hope again. Thank you for your generosity. There are still some really good people around.” (Federal criminal appeal client)

“There is no other attorney I’ve ever even heard of I’d rather have as chief counsel and leader of my defense/appeals than Jerome Buting. You’re the best. Period.” (Dane County client)

“Your advice and counsel were greatly appreciated. We appreciate you taking the time on your Sunday and evenings to help us. We are SO happy about the results! Thanks again.” (Waukesha County client)

“Thank you again … for everything. Five and one-half years of commitment, so many ups and downs and an outcome like that. You did a GREAT job.” (Waukesha County felony drug offense client)