As our Tampa criminal defense blog has reported before Central Florida has a knack for making national news for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, Central Florida has done it again, making national news again for all the wrong reasons – the suicide of Rebecca Sedwick. As you will recall, she was a twelve (12) year old girl, who killed herself in Polk County, Florida after allegedly being a victim of extreme cyberbulling from her classmates. This story made national news not only because of the suicide of a young girl, unfortunately this is becoming all too common, rather it made national news because of the response by Polk County Sheriff Graddy Judd, who quickly arrested the two alleged young girls. Several issues make this case incredibly unique.
First and foremost, the age of the alleged defendants, as well as the victims, is remarkable considering the alleged level of bullying that occurred. While we would generally refrain from announcing the ages of the alleged defendants, national news reported the defendants were fourteen (14) years old and twelve (12) years old respectively. This is somewhat unheard of for young women that age to bully with that level of intensity. Unlike national media sources, we will not repeat the young women’s name on this Tampa criminal defense blog. It is also very unusual for news sources to release such details about juveniles, but they did quickly in this situation. These young women were charged with felony aggravated stalking.
Secondly, it goes without saying the age of the age and sex of the victim also makes this case remarkable. Fortunately, young women this age simply do not commit suicide often. This undoubtedly will have a long lasting impact on the her school, community and the greater Tampa Bay area for years to come.
Lastly and most uniquely, the quick arrest of the alleged bullies also made this an incredibly unique case. Countless teenage suicides have been attributed across the United States in the last decade, but very few, if any, have resulted in the arrest of the alleged bullies. Sheriff Graddy Judd of Polk County has been known for being very aggressive, the arrests in this case only served to further promote his image. Regardless of what you call it, bullying has been around for centuries, cyberbullying is somewhat new and has only grew in popularity due to the spread of social media.
This case has gained further notoriety as several well-known Tampa lawyers have become involved. First, Jose Baez was retained by one of the young women in the case. Mr. Baez gained national and international fame after representing Casey Anthony in her murder trial in Orlando, Florida. The family of the victim in the matter quickly retained Morgan & Morgan, a well-known Central Florida civil litigation firm. Charlie Crist, former Governor of Florida, quickly took the helms of the case and is representing them in their eventual civil suit. While the specifics of the civil suit have not been laid out, it sounds as though it will likely involve the Polk County School Board, as their attorneys have mentioned repeatedly notifying adults and supervisors of the situation, yet according to them little was done to prevent it.
A unique twist occurred approximately one (1) week after the initial arrest, when the mother of one of the young defendants was arrested for felony child abuse. Out of respect for the defendants, we will not mention their name or their mother’s name. It should also be noted the allegations against the mother were based on a very graphic video tape later replayed across national news networks for days after the arrest. The video showed the mother pummeling one (1) young boy on a bed, while another lay on the floor apparently unconscious. This mother previously explained during an interview that this could not have occurred because she closely monitors her daughter’s use of social networking, obviously her arrest casts serious doubts on her credibility.
Another important, unique consideration in this case is the implications of the First Amendment and freedom of speech. While we are all aware “hate speech” is limited, when does “bullying” cross that line, if ever? Does cyberbullying constitute stalking, as it was charged in Polk County? Does the situation change if the alleged victim is responding back to the alleged bullies? If this case proceeds to trial, I imagine it will likely come down to an issue of where freedom of speech and expression ends and where does pseudo-hate speech/bullying begin? While this case appears to be a limited situation in a small town in Central Florida, it very well may have long lasting implications depending on the decision of the court. Given that social networking was involved, I anticipate we will eventually have the opportunity to see the entire spectrum of insults allegedly flailed at this poor young girl. Without having an opportunity to analyze full discovery in the matter, it is difficult to anticipate how the Court will rule in this unique situation. Florida Statute 784.048 provides the specifics of what constitutes cyberbullying.
If you or someone you know has questions about cyberbullying, stalking and/or this unfortunate case, please do not hesitate to contact the Tampa criminal defense attorneys of Hackworth Law for a free case consultation. We appreciate your time in checking out our blog, if you want to speak to one of our Tampa criminal defense attorneys immediately, please use the “contact us now” tab in the upper right hand corner of our website. Thanks!