Calling school safety and free speech “not necessarily antagonistic goals,” the California Supreme Court unanimously overturned the felony conviction of a high school student whose violence-laced poem was deemed a criminal threat, reports the Los Angeles Times. The ruling cleared the criminal record of a Santa Clara County teenager who as a 15-year-old sophomore was sentenced to 100 days in juvenile detention for giving classmates copies of a poem he had written that mentioned bringing guns to school. The prosecution attracted national attention, and several prominent writers weighed in on behalf of the young poet.
The decision permits schools to discipline or even expel students who are feared dangerous, but says courts must stringently review criminal convictions that involve creative work. Lawyers the ruling made clear that the artistic work of students deserves the same constitutional protection as that of established authors and artists. The boy was one of several students around the country arrested for stories, poetry, or art that evoked violence after the 1999 shootings at Colorado’s Columbine High School. He was arrested in March 2001, fewer than two weeks after a boy his age killed two students and injured 13 others at a school in Santee, Calif.