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In re J.J.M.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 10, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF: J.J.M., A MINOR APPEAL OF: J.J.M., A MINOR

          Appeal from the Dispositional Order Entered May 14, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County Juvenile Division at No(s): CP-40-JV-0000119-2018

          BEFORE: BOWES, J., DUBOW, J., and MUSMANNO, J.

          OPINION

          BOWES, J.

         J.J.M. appeals from the dispositional order entered following his delinquency adjudication for terroristic threats. We affirm.

         At the time of the events in question, Appellant was a fifteen-year-old student at West Side Career and Technology Center, a vocational high school in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The juvenile court summarized the testimony offered at the adjudication hearing arising from those events as follows.

M.W., a fifteen-year-old student at West Side C.T.C. testified that on February 20, 2018 she was in school and is familiar with [Appellant]. M.W. identified [Appellant] for the record and related that they have several classes together. She testified that she heard [Appellant] make statements regarding "things in reference to death and such," in the hallway, between classes and she was within two to three feet of him at the time the statements were made.
M.W. further testified that [Appellant] stated "he wanted to beat the record of 19." She testified he was either talking to someone or just said it and it was not directly said to her. She then notified school administrators Mr. Rava and Mr. Paulauskas. She further testified she went to the school authorities "because it was concerning due to past statements. I felt it needed to be taken seriously."
When asked on cross-examination if she felt that she needed to talk to [Appellant] to ask what he meant by the statement she replied "no, I felt it was unneeded." She stated the statements concerned her because he's shown signs of possibly being violent.
The Commonwealth next called K.S. a fourteen-year-old student at West Side C.T.C. K.S. testified that she was in school on February 20, 2018 and did not have any conversations with [Appellant] that day. She stated she did have conversations with him a few weeks before.
K.S. testified [Appellant] said "he doesn't think people deserve to live and everyone should just die." She went to school administrator Mr. Paulauskas and reported this incident.
K.S. testified that she did not immediately report the statement to school administration however, a few weeks later after she heard other statements he made, she then spoke up about it because it was a serious problem. She stated "I was scared, like, I was nervous. I was scared because I didn't know what was going to happen. There was previously school shootings like you never know. I spoke with Mr. Paulauskas and Mr. Rava, I approached them because my friends approached me about him saying he was going to beat the record. She stated she was concerned and reported this information to school personnel and believed [Appellant] was then suspended from school. He was no longer at school."
K.S. further testified about previous statements that she heard coming out of J.M's mouth that worried her. She stated the statement that she heard was "that he thought people should die, people like shouldn't live. That's what I heard myself." She further related that other people told her about other statements he had made.
On cross-examination K.S. was asked if she was generally uneasy and anxious because of matters recently reported in the news. She testified "yes, I was uneasy and anxious because there had recently been school shootings."
Richard Rava, Administrator of West Side [C.T.C.] testified. He indicated he is the Assistant Director/Principal. He is familiar with [Appellant]. When asked if action was taken by the school regarding [Appellant]'s conduct, Mr. Rava testified that [Appellant] was expelled from school.

Juvenile Court Opinion, 7/16/18, at 2-4 (some punctuation corrected; citations omitted).

         Upon this evidence, a juvenile hearing officer adjudicated Appellant delinquent of terroristic threats. Appellant challenged the hearing officer's recommendation, and the juvenile court scheduled a de novo hearing. The parties stipulated to the introduction of the prior testimony at that hearing to inform the court's determination. On May 14, 2018, the juvenile court adjudicated Appellant delinquent of terroristic threats under 18 Pa.C.S. § 2607(a)(3), and provided that the disposition order drafted by the hearing officer remain in effect. That order, inter alia, placed Appellant on probation, required that he comply with mental health recommendations, and prohibited Appellant from having any contact with weapons. Appellant filed a timely post-dispositional motion, which was denied by order of July 16, 2018. Appellant thereafter filed a timely notice of appeal.

         Appellant presents the following questions for this Court's review:

1. Whether the Commonwealth presented sufficient evidence to conclude that [Appellant] violated 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2706(a)(3)?
2. Whether the terroristic threats statute violates [Appellant's] 1st Amendment right under the United States Constitution to free speech?
3. Whether the terroristic threats statute is unconstitutional and, as applied, in violation of [Appellant's] due process rights under the 5th and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution?

Appellant's brief at 2.

         We begin with the law applicable to Appellant's contention that the evidence offered by the Commonwealth is insufficient to sustain his adjudication. "In a juvenile proceeding, the hearing judge sits as the finder of fact." In re L.A., 853 A.2d 388, 391 (Pa.Super. 2004). "The weight to be assigned the testimony of the witnesses is within the exclusive province of the fact finder." Id.

When considering a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence following an adjudication of delinquency, we must review the entire record and view the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth.
In determining whether the Commonwealth presented sufficient evidence to meet its burden of proof, the test to be applied is whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth and drawing all reasonable inferences therefrom, there is sufficient evidence to find every element of the crime charged. The Commonwealth may sustain its burden of ...

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