Juvenile Delinquency • Sufficiency of Evidence • Terroristic Threats • Disorderly Conduct • Intentionally Terrorized • “Zombie Apocalypse” & “Mayan Apocalypse”

In the Interest of T.H., PICS Case No. 13-3240 (Pa. Super. memorandum Nov. 13, 2013) Bender, J. (13 pages).

There was insufficient evidence in the record to support the trial court’s determination that juvenile appellant’s conduct was tantamount to the crimes of terroristic threats and disorderly conduct; the trial court provided no explanation for its conclusion that juvenile intentionally terrorized a fellow student or any other individual with his statements; juvenile’s threatening statement was not a hazardous or physically offensive condition. Reversed.

Appellant T.H., a juvenile, appealed from the order of disposition entered following an adjudication of delinquency for the offenses of terroristic threats and disorderly conduct. T.H. challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the adjudication of delinquency.

This case arose when S.T., a fellow student, claimed that she heard T.H. say that “he was going to bring his gun into school the next day and get everybody on his list,” and reported the statement to her gym teacher.

Appellant contended that the evidence introduced at his hearing was insufficient to establish the elements of terroristic threats.

Pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. §2706(a)(1), the commonwealth was required to prove that T.H. communicated a threat to commit a crime of violence with the intent to terrorize another. Under Crimes Code §302, a person acts intentionally when it is his conscious object to engage in culpable conduct or to cause such a result. Thus, for the trial court to find T.H. culpable for making terroristic threats, it was required to find that T.H. had the conscious objective to terrorize another or to cause another to be terrorized.

The trial court found S.T.’s testimony credible. It emphasized that T.H. admitted to talking about a gun at school that morning, and to talking about a list of people “who he wanted to make suffer the way he had suffered.”

The trial court found irrelevant the testimony of the students sitting at or near T.H.’s cafeteria table, all of whom testified that their conversation that morning concerned the forthcoming “zombie apocalypse.”

Other testimony established that the students had been discussing the “Mayan Apocalypse” on Facebook during the previous week, and the students were generally discussing what actions they might take if such an apocalypse were to occur.

The trial court provided no further explanation for its conclusion that T.H. intentionally terrorized S.T. or any other individual with his statements. Accordingly, this court concluded that the record lacked sufficient evidence to establish the requisite mental state for terroristic threats.

T.H. also challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the court’s adjudication of delinquency for disorderly conduct.

The trial court determined that “T.H. created a hazardous or physically offensive condition by making the statement, which S.T. believed and then took action upon by telling her gym teacher, who informed school administration, who informed the police.” The trial court concluded that the statement itself was a hazardous or physically offensive condition that created a risk of public inconvenience.

There was no question that threatening statements could qualify as disorderly conduct under 18 Pa.C.S. §5503(a)(1), where culpability exists for fighting words or threatening the life of another.

A threatening statement, however, is not a hazardous or physically offensive condition, and therefore, could not qualify as disorderly conduct as charged under § 5503(a)(4). Accordingly, the court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the trial court’s conclusion that T.H. committed the offense of disorderly conduct as defined in §5503(a)(4).