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Liability
2/25/2015 12:00 AM

ORLANDO, FLA. — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Yik Yak. The breakneck speed at which the social-media world continues to grow and change presents an array of challenges for colleges and universities struggling to keep pace. Institutions face a difficult balance between boosting their social-media presence and steering clear of legal hot water and PR nightmares.

ORLANDO, FLA. — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Yik Yak. The breakneck speed at which the social-media world continues to grow and change presents an array of challenges for colleges and universities struggling to keep pace. Institutions face a difficult balance between boosting their social-media presence and steering clear of legal hot water and PR nightmares.

“There’s the feeling that everyone else is doing this, so let’s do this,” said Jacob Rooksby, assistant professor of law at the Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh. But institutions must implement a thoughtful and systematic social-media approach that furthers educational goals while limiting liability, he said. Rooksby recently spoke at Stetson University’s National Conference on Law & Higher Education.

The 140-character limit on Twitter certainly doesn’t limit your institution’s exposure to claims of defamation or other areas of liability, Rooksby said. In fact, your institution won’t get off the hook just by shifting the blame to staff or faculty members who use institutional social-media accounts, he said.

And some students’ posts would make any higher ed administrator cringe. Hateful and disrespectful speech about faculty, staff and other students isn’t anything new. But the platform has changed. Instead of whispers and notes heard and seen by a few, social-media posts instantly appear before thousands on Yik Yak or Twitter, and often anonymously. Banning a particular platform won’t solve the problem, Rooksby said.

Gain perspective

“Some of the most important speech is anonymous. And hate speech is not punishable under the Constitution unless it rises to the level of defamation or a true threat,” Rooksby said.

The best starting point is developing social-media policies/guidelines, he said. Don’t assume existing policies cover social media. Ensure policies define what’s covered, what’s not, and whether and to what extent policies address student and employee activity, he said.

Your institution should also coordinate its social-media activities, which happens at very few institutions. “There’s really no one in charge. Think of the benefit of brand. Corporations have entire departments overseeing social media,” Rooksby said.

Many institutions have lost track of how many accounts bear their institution’s name or other identifying marks, or which institutional representatives actively represent the institution on social media, he said. Such lack of awareness could bring all kinds of trouble to bear on the institution, he warned.

Use social media for branding

Instead, your institution can harness the power of social media for branding, promotion and reputation, Rooksby said. Here’s how, according to Rooksby:

  • Identify a social-media coordinator and create a social-media hub. For example, Harvard University’s website has a social-media page that lists all its social-media accounts so people can connect to them from one central place.
  • Manage the message. Ensure your institution creates and uses its very own hashtag. It can be a valuable opportunity to take back control, have influence, and overcome the negatives on social media.
  • Reclaim your institution’s name. Find out if student organizations or others use your institution’s name/insignia/logo in their Twitter handle or Facebook page. Then, reclaim it. Otherwise, consumers could reasonably believe the other party is your institution. If your reclaiming efforts are met with free speech concerns, explain that they can continue saying whatever they want but you’re acting to prevent confusion and to protect your trademark.

Conduct social-media training, review sessions

Annual social-media training and review sessions can help ensure your institution has a safe and effective plan for handling social media, Rooksby said. Invite staff and faculty members responsible for maintaining institutional social-media accounts or contemplating creating new ones.

Rooksby suggested asking your institution’s social-media coordinator, legal counsel, public relations/marketing staff, or information technology director to give presentations on the following key topics:

  1. Institutional vs. personal accounts:
  2. Emphasize that institutional social-media accounts are maintained and operated by faculty or staff for the good of the institution. When using personal social-media accounts, faculty and staff should take care to distinguish they’re not speaking for the institution.

    Institutional accounts should bear institutional trademarks, but personal accounts should not. Institutional users must not “like” products, candidates or political causes.

    Some states have laws prohibiting employers from requiring employees to provide log-in/password credentials for social-media accounts or accept their friend requests. Many laws don’t cover shoulder searches, which means a supervisor boss could ask an employee to pull up her Facebook page at work. But Rooksby discourages that practice, because less knowledge is better when it comes to your employees’ private social-media use, he said.

  3. Account logistics:
    • Explain how to select appropriate names for institutional accounts across platforms (e.g., you want @university’s name to be the Twitter handle for the institution, not the fencing team).
    • Review the platforms and accounts your institution uses, as well as known or perceived limitations of activity.
    • Identify the social-media coordinator who keeps the central repository of institutional accounts.
    • Emphasize maintaining accurate, up-to-date access information for all institutional social-media accounts.
    • Establish communication channels between everyone responsible for institutional social-media accounts in order to encourage uniformity and prevent overlap.
    • Discuss how each institutional account relates to others.
    • Explain procedures for establishing new accounts within established platforms versus establishing new accounts within emerging platforms.
  4. Institutional rules and norms:
    • Review your institution’s social-media policy, guidelines and goals. Note how they intersect with other policies, such as student conduct codes and faculty policies.
    • Discuss positive social-media events that supported your institution’s social-media goals.
    • Review lessons learned from recent negative social-media events involving your institution.
    • Emphasize the importance of accuracy, transparency (of identity), respect, timeliness, sensitivity and interconnectivity in all institutional social-media use.
    • Remind everyone of the permanence of online posts.
    • Address how academic freedom and freedom of speech apply to social media. It doesn’t mean faculty/staff can post whatever they want and the institution can’t object or respond to it.
  5. Legal concerns:
  6. Advise institutional social-media account users to take the following steps to help reduce risk of liability, including defamation and privacy violations:

    • Obtain written consent from photographed individuals whenever possible, or at least verbally ensure they know their images could appear on social media. Avoid portraying the views/beliefs of others.
    • Don’t publicly disclose private facts about others, or anything that’s offensive.
    • Don’t post content that’s negative, derogatory, and could be proven false.
    • Ensure accessibility for all, especially if social-media use is required to fulfill curricular or co-curricular activities.
    • Limit posting others’ material, and always provide attribution. Even better, link to the original or ask permission.
    • Don’t rely on disclaimers to prevent defamation claims. For example, it’s not enough to state on your profile page, “All views expressed are my own. Retweets do not imply endorsement,” or to preface insulting posts with “In my opinion….”
    • Balance privacy versus safety concerns. Don’t let unnecessary fears of privacy violations keep you from sharing your concerns about a student’s post. “These are your thoughts about someone else and you can act on those,” especially when it concerns a public post, Rooksby said. In fact, you have a duty to respond, he said. “The risks are definitely greater in not reaching out,” he said.

Craft sound social-media policies, guidelines

The fact that social-media platforms change so quickly only underscores the critical need for carefully crafted social-media policies and guidelines.

“It’s somewhat tricky to write a set of policies that will apply for the future without being so broad that it will be meaningless,” Rooksby said.

He said social-media policies/guidelines can play a critical role by:

  • Protecting your institution’s reputation. You don’t want a disgruntled employee using your Twitter handle to send out insulting posts, for example.
  • Promoting brand uniformity and strategic engagement with constituents.
  • Preventing surprise in the event of litigation.
  • Minimizing personnel issues.

To develop effective social-media policies/guidelines for your institution, consider following Rooksby’s tips:

  • Address overarching concerns instead of tying policies/guidelines to any specific platforms.
  • Use wording that’s easy to understand and follow. Steer clear of anything too long or unwieldy to actually enforce, or so vague or broad that it could come across as impinging on academic freedom or values.
  • Consider “time/place/manner” restrictions/guidelines instead of a banned-words list that is difficult to enforce. For example, you might require student-athletes to refrain from social-media posts two hours before or after games.
  • Ensure institutionwide distribution and awareness of the policies/guidelines.
  • Determine how you’ll decide whether questionable posts cross the line and become a violation. Consider whether the posts violate any professionalism codes or rise to the level of a true threat, defamation or harassment.
  • Clearly articulate any ramifications for ignoring applicable policies/guidelines.

Jacob Rooksby provides social-media audits, trainings and consultations for institutions. You may contact him at rooksbylaw@gmail.com.

Legal
2/6/2015 12:00 AM

Colleges and universities choose to partner with outside legal counsel on a variety of student affairs issues. That might include the development of policy and procedures; advisement regarding employment matters; reviewing contracts and other legal documents; conducting internal investigations relating to student misconduct or Title IX sexual violence issues; and helping resolve disputes, claims and litigation.

Colleges and universities choose to partner with outside legal counsel on a variety of student affairs issues. That might include the development of policy and procedures; advisement regarding employment matters; reviewing contracts and other legal documents; conducting internal investigations relating to student misconduct or Title IX sexual violence issues; and helping resolve disputes, claims and litigation.

When partnering with outside legal counsel, you can help ensure a successful partnership by addressing these areas:

  1. Understanding the scope of work and implementing the approach. Institutions retain outside counsel for their expertise on a wide range of legal issues. Institutions lacking knowledge of a potential major compliance violation may retain outside counsel to assist with drafting or revising internal policies and procedures or conducting a compliance audit. Institutions with that knowledge might retain outside counsel to perform the investigation and represent them during the investigation, resolution and follow-up process.
  2. To receive greater value from your partnership with outside counsel while demonstrating financial responsibility, consider hiring more staff, even though that means additional salaries/benefits, because more staff will decrease the possibility of compliance violations occurring and increase your unit’s ability to support outside counsel when necessary. Consider using internal staff to:

    • Conduct preliminary investigations to determine whether a full investigation by outside counsel is necessary.
    • Collect documents, locate witnesses and schedule interviews.
    • Conduct investigations that are smaller and less time-consuming.

    However, delegating work to outside counsel proves more beneficial when you’re:

    • Responding to initial inquiries. An attorney can help ensure deadlines are met.
    • Conducting major investigations. An attorney conducting a major investigation gives the Office for Civil Rights and other government agencies the impression of objectivity in the findings. Additionally, an attorney with expertise in conducting interviews will ensure you have all relevant information.
    • Taking a problem-solving approach to an allegation or violation. An independent review of your student affairs unit gives the appearance of propriety. Using outside counsel provides an institution with an outside perspective when internal staff disagree about the handling of an allegation or violation.
    • Needing legal expertise. Outside counsel have experience navigating the investigation and resolution process plus expertise dealing with due process and evidentiary issues.
    • Needing additional resources. The right outside counsel will have the resources for success in the investigation, resolution and follow-up processes, including drafting and editing documents, conducting thorough investigations and interviews, and so on. Delegating this work allows internal staff to focus on daily responsibilities.
  3. Manage the relationship. When you decide to work with outside counsel, establishing communication guidelines and tracking expenses are two of the most important components to a successful partnership.
  4. Consider the following issues when establishing communication guidelines:

    • Designate the primary contacts for outside counsel. This could be your institution’s chief executive officer, a member of the general counsel’s office, the student affairs vice president, or the dean of students, for example.
    • Determine the method (e.g., phone conferences, in-person meetings) and frequency of communication (e.g., regularly scheduled, task completion–based scheduling) between outside counsel and your institution.

    When tracking outside counsel costs, consider requiring:

    • Monthly bills in a specific format.
    • Matter budgets prior to beginning the partnership, and budget updates, if necessary.
    • No changes in hourly rates or assigned attorneys without prior written approval.
    • Periodic written matter updates based upon the matter strategy and plan.
    • Limits on internal charges (e.g., copies, faxes, mailing).
  5. Evaluating the performance of outside counsel. While the outcome of a matter is a crucial metric, it’s important to understand that partnering with outside counsel neither prevents the occurrence of a violation nor guarantees a violation won’t result in significant consequences to an institution. Therefore, consider the following additional metrics when evaluating performance:
    • Was the matter resolved based upon the firm’s investigation plan and compliance violations strategy and completed within an appropriate time frame?
    • Were attorneys responsive to your communications?
    • Was the matter handled within the agreed-upon budget (absent exigent circumstances)?
    • Were your objectives and goals met?

    If you believe outside counsel is underperforming or overcharging, directly communicating that information to them is bound to improve your partnership.

Crisis Management
1/2/2015 12:00 AM

Colleges and universities can learn a lot from the U.S. government when it comes to campus threat assessment and violence prevention. From the 1990s Secret Service study of attacks on public officials to the most recent FBI study of active-shooter incidents, the findings have implications for behavioral intervention and campus incident response.

Colleges and universities can learn a lot from the U.S. government when it comes to campus threat assessment and violence prevention. From the 1990s Secret Service study of attacks on public officials to the most recent FBI study of active-shooter incidents, the findings have implications for behavioral intervention and campus incident response.

“Preventing Assassination: A Monograph: Secret Service Exceptional Case Study Project” details the findings from analyzing 83 attempted attacks on public officials that occurred from 1949 to 1996. Key findings from this report include:

  • Violence is the end result of an understandable process of thoughts and behavior.
  • Individuals who engage in violence don’t fit a single or specific profile.
  • There are often identifiable behaviors of concern exhibited prior to the act of violence, including the planning and preparation.

The resulting implication of this study is that many acts of violence are potentially preventable. After Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s violent acts at Columbine High School in 1999, the same question was asked about violence in the school setting. “The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States,” a study by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education, reviewed the behaviors leading up to 37 school shootings occurring between 1974 and 2000. The same themes emerged, including:

  • Attacks are rarely sudden or impulsive.
  • Most of the time, someone knew about the idea or plan before it happened.
  • Most attackers exhibited a behavior that caused concern for others before the attack.

So why don’t people report these concerns? The answers are simple:

  1. No one wants to believe their friend or their son or daughter could be capable of such violence.
  2. There isn’t a singular, definitive profile, predictor or cause of violence. This is illustrated in a student bystander study by the U.S. Secret Service, “Prior Knowledge of Potential School-Based Violence: Information Students Learn May Prevent a Targeted Attack,” that found that people often misjudge the likelihood, immediacy and actuality of an attack, so they don’t report it.

Understand the history

The Virginia Tech incident in 2007 became the deadliest shooting on a college campus since 1966, when Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded many more at the University of Texas-Austin in what’s now known as the “clock-tower shooting.” Then in 2008, the violence at Northern Illinois University led officials at colleges and universities throughout the country to ask, “Are we next?”

Campus threat assessment and behavioral intervention teams emerged, attempting to connect the dots to understand student behavior across the silos that frequently exist at academic institutions. The Handbook for Campus Threat Assessment & Management Teams emerged as a resource to help campuses put the threat assessment research into practice through the creation of multidisciplinary behavioral intervention teams. These teams are designed to identify behaviors that reflect where someone falls on the escalation of violence spectrum (from ideation to implementation).

“Campus Attacks: Targeted Violence Affecting Institutions of Higher Education,” published in 2010 by the U.S. Secret Service, reviewed 272 incidents of targeted deadly violence that occurred at colleges and universities, ranging from sexual violence to gunshots. Most of the time, the violence comes from a member of the campus community. The triggers for violence vary. But in the current national landscape focused on sexual violence on college campuses, it’s worth noting that more than half of the incidents were triggered by an intimate relationship, refused advances, obsession or sexual violence. Other triggers included retaliation, academic stress/failure, bias and workplace dismissal.

Follow key steps

As our campuses strive every day to answer that dreaded question “Are we next?” consider these key guiding concepts:

  • Create a culture of reporting. Looking back at the behaviors leading to the Columbine shooting or other incidents, we can identify warning behaviors. However, would we each report the behavior if it involved one of our own friends, students or children? That’s why we need to make it easy for our campus community members to report concerns, and build trust by sharing information with reporting parties whenever you can. While the team’s risk assessment model should remain confidential, the campus community needs to know what kinds of things to report, what will happen with the information, and what will happen to the person of concern. Your team’s eyes are the campus community. Without referrals, you’re blind to what’s happening on your campus.
  • Get the right people at the right table at the right time. Once you learn of a concern, arrange for the best people you have to investigate and review it. While there’s no “right” number, effective teams generally include four to seven members to ensure multiple perspectives and timely action. Consider ad-hoc meetings or a core and extended team if you have a larger campus or team. Quality training and use of a mutually understood risk assessment model should ensure that if only a few team members convene, then decisions should still be made as if the whole team made them.
  • Focus on prevention, not prediction. Don’t try to determine which one of your highest-risk cases might be the one that actually results in violence. Once you determine someone has a risk level for violence, take appropriate steps to intervene to lower the risk no matter how high or low that risk seems. This is where the team also supports the overall institutional mission of student success and completion.
  • Balance research and campus context in decision-making. Use the team to evaluate behaviors, risk factors and protective/supportive factors impacting an individual, and use a consistent model based on research to guide investigations, evaluate information, and determine a level of risk and any appropriate interventions.
  • Intervene before a threat. If the team is spending all its time on high-level-threat cases, or if the team chooses to meet only once or twice a year, there isn’t enough time being spent on the low-level cases such as argumentative or isolated students. Ideally, teams spend most of the time deciding whether the behavior is simply an isolated concern or whether it’s an indicator that the person poses a low threat for violence. This often means a lot of case management and follow-up, rather than a lot of detailed investigations.
  • Don’t try to exist in a vacuum. Just as The Handbook for Campus Threat Assessment & Management Teams notes, the process is about threat assessment and management. Violence is a process, not a snapshot. Keep good records. Follow up on leads and confirm your interventions are effectively managing the threat. Employ monitoring strategies to make sure certain individuals don’t rise back to a threat level. Take the campus into the context of the larger society, considering when to alert someone outside the campus about a possible threat, especially if you’re separating a student or employee from your campus.

Even though we often ponder the question “Are we next?” the reality is that we must ask it again every day and after every new incident that occurs throughout the country. Even the FBI recognizes that “[o]ur success will always be hard to quantify, since success is defined as the lack of an event,” as stated by Andre Simons, a supervisory special agent with the FBI, in “Why Mass Shootings Keep Happening: A Radical New Look at Mass Shooters. Why They Do It and How to Stop Them.”

While we continue daily efforts to prevent violence on college campuses, we can take solace in the 2013 “Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention & Policy, APA Panel of Experts Report,” which found that behavioral threat assessment and management teams are “the most effective tool currently available to prevent workplace violence or insider threats.”

Although we may not be able to fully quantify our success, there’s a certain measure of success found in being able to sleep at night and come to work ready to ask the question through an intentional campus process based in government research and strategies.

Check out threat assessment resources

—Compiled by Laura Bennett

Law and Campus
8/13/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: Gamage v. State of Nevada, No.: 2:12-cv-00290-GMN-VCF (D. Nev. 03/19/13).

Ruling: The District Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding the plaintiff had alleged enough facts to allow the case to proceed.

Case name: Gamage v. State of Nevada, No.: 2:12-cv-00290-GMN-VCF (D. Nev. 03/19/13).

Ruling: The District Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss, finding the plaintiff had alleged enough facts to allow the case to proceed.

What it means: When a public higher education institution dismisses a student for academic dishonesty, such as plagiarism, it must give the student due process.

And that due process could include permission for the student to be represented by an attorney at a hearing.

Summary: Sujanie Gamage submitted a dissertation to her advisory committee in the chemistry program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in February 2011.

A chemistry professor filed a report in June 2011 alleging that Gamage’s dissertation contained plagiarized text.

After a hearing, the university’s academic integrity appeal panel found Gamage had committed plagiarism. She was removed from the program.

Gamage sued, disputing the academic misconduct and claiming violation of due process rights because she was prevented from being represented and/or assisted by an advisor at the hearing.

The university filed a motion to dismiss.

The judge said the Due Process Clause prohibited arbitrary deprivations of liberty.

Noting the complaint alleged UNLV prevented her from returning to the university and effectively from being admitted to another higher education institution, he ruled Gamage had adequately pled a deprivation of constitutionally protected interests.

The judge refused to dismiss the case.

You Be the Judge
8/7/2013 12:00 AM
Christopher Reichert enrolled in Ellzabethtown College in the fall of 2007. He informed the college he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a seizure disorder, and learning disabilities in written expression and reading fluency. Reichert encountered difficulties in his sophomore and senior years.

Christopher Reichert enrolled in Ellzabethtown College in the fall of 2007. He informed the college he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a seizure disorder, and learning disabilities in written expression and reading fluency. Reichert encountered difficulties in his sophomore and senior years.

He allegedly had a heated exchange with a professor when he attempted to drop a course. The professor reported the incident to the department chairman and a meeting was arranged to discuss other complaints against Reichert. The chairman concluded Reichert should be expelled because he represented a threat to others.

The provost overruled the chairman’s decision after Reichert and his parents protested. But Reichert claimed the provost and faculty members devised a multipart plan to force him out. Reichert alleged he was denied further accommodations, rumors were spread about him, and faculty members were told to “make a record of all [his] inappropriate behaviors.”

After a meeting between Reichert and the dean of students, the dean scheduled a disciplinary hearing, which was rescheduled because Reichert had a seizure. Additional meetings were scheduled to discuss Reichert’s professional competency and a plagiarism accusation. Because Reichert suffered a mental breakdown, the college allowed him to take a medical leave of absence but told him he had to face those hearings before returning.

Reichert filed a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his civil rights as a person with a disability. He also asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, alleging a conspiracy to violate his civil rights.

Reichert v. Elizabethtown College, et al., No. 10-2248 (E.D. Pa. 04/10/12)

Did the court dismiss the student’s claims?

A. Yes. The court dismissed the claims for violation of civil rights because the university was a private entity and wasn’t acting under color of law.

B. Yes. The court dismissed the claims alleging conspiracy because he couldn’t show that two or more people conspired to have him dismissed.

C. No. The court upheld the claims for violation of civil rights because the university, by virtue of being a recipient of federal funds, acted under color of law.

D. No. The court upheld the conspiracy claim because the allegations were sufficient to establish a possible conspiracy among college officials with the objective of having the student dismissed.

Correct answer: A and D.

The claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 were dismissed because Reichert couldn’t show the college was a “state actor.” But the judge noted Reichert’s allegations established the required elements for the § 1985 claim. Because he alleged the individual defendants held at least one meeting to unlawfully remove him and also asserted other allegations of disability-based discrimination, the judge decided not to dismiss the claim.

Editor’s note: This feature isn’t intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.

Law and Campus
8/1/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: State of Illinois v. Oduwole, No. 5-12-0039 (Ill. App. Ct. 03/06/13).

Ruling: Illinois’ Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s judgment, holding that a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville student was wrongly convicted of attempting to make a terrorist threat.

Case name: State of Illinois v. Oduwole, No. 5-12-0039 (Ill. App. Ct. 03/06/13).

Ruling: Illinois’ Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s judgment, holding that a Southern Illinois University Edwardsville student was wrongly convicted of attempting to make a terrorist threat.

What it means: To prove a charge of attempting to make a terrorist threat, the prosecution must introduce more than just a few writings that appear to be threatening from a student who aspires to be a rap singer, plus weapons without bullets, and the opening of a PayPal account under a pseudonym.

Summary: Olutosin Oduwole, a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, opened a PayPal account under the name “Jeff Robinson” on May 3, 2007. On July 16, the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms informed campus police Oduwole had recently purchased four pistols.

Campus police decided on July 20 Oduwole’s vehicle had been left unattended for more than two days. In accordance with university policy, a campus police officer prepared to tow it away. During a routine inventory of the vehicle’s contents, the officer found bullets in the console.

He also found a piece of paper depicting an inhaler and handwriting. Much of the writing was unconnected words, but it also had the phrase: “SEND 2 to … paypal account if this account doesn’t reach $50,000 in the next 7 days then a murderous rampage similar to the VT shooting will occur at another highly populated university. THIS IS NOT A JOKE!”

Oduwole was immediately arrested and charged with attempting to convey a terrorist threat. A loaded pistol and nearly 2,000 pages of writings were seized from his room pursuant to a search warrant. A large percentage of the entries appeared to be rap lyrics or writings related to aspiring to have a rap career.

A more thorough search of the vehicle uncovered a knit cap with a ski mask hidden behind the back seat. The searches didn’t yield any indication of plans to distribute a threat or ammunition for the handguns Oduwole had purchased.

A forensic specialist concluded the handwriting on the paper was Oduwole’s.

A Microsoft Movie Maker file was found on the hard drive of his computer, but the file had been deleted. However, some captions remained in a compressed drive and the picture files had names of universities such as Harvard University and Penn State.

At his trial, Oduwole produced evidence he was an aspiring rap artist, and an expert testified the handwriting amounted to the beginning of a song.

Oduwole was found guilty of illegally possessing a firearm and attempting to make a terrorist threat. He appealed only the terrorist threat conviction.

The state argued the handwritten phrase on the paper, the creation of the Movie Maker file, and the opening of the PayPal account either individually or collectively was sufficient to support the conviction.

But the appellate court said there was no evidence Oduwole ever had a plan to disseminate the writing on the paper.

And it said PayPal accounts and Movie Maker files weren’t specially designed for unlawful purposes.

Finally, the court found no evidence Oduwole targeted anyone in whom he intended to instill fear. The panel didn’t mention a fake name on his PayPal account or the ski mask hidden in his car.

The panel concluded the evidence merely showed activities consistent with a variety of scenarios. It reversed Oduwole’s conviction.

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