When the enforcement of Florida’s law goes bad—the people of Florida pay.

“A Florida teen is facing adult felony charges after she caused a small explosion on school grounds in what her friends say was a science experiment gone bad.  Kiera Wilmot, 16, was accused of mixing household chemicals in a water bottle, causing the top to blow off and producing smoke, WTSP.com and TheLedger.com reported.  No one was hurt, and Bartow High School property was not damaged.  Wilmot was charged with possessing or discharging a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device.  She was also expelled and will have to pursue her high school degree in an expulsion program.  Students told WTSP.com that the incident was due to a science experiment that went awry.  The school principal, Ron Pritchard, said he thinks ‘Wilmot was just curious about what would happen when the chemicals were mixed and was shocked by the result. She is a good kid,’ he said.”[1]

Under Florida Statute 790.001(4)(a), a “Destructive device” does not include: a device which is not designed, redesigned, used, or intended for use as a weapon.  Clearly, this student’s science experiment was not “designed, redesigned, used, or intended to be used as a weapon.”  The principle’s own statement shows that the girl “did not ‘intent’ for her science project to explode.”[2]  So why is this minor being prosecuted for a science project gone bad?  This is clearly not the way to encourage our young science majors.

Under Florida law the “possession or discharge of a destructive device[3] on school property occurs when the “person who exhibits a…destructive device…except as authorized in support of school-sanctioned activities.”  The real question is, was this a school sanction science project?  The principal’s statement seems to resolve this question by calling it “a science project.”

Even if the this was not a “school sanctioned project” the statute clearly expresses a required intent in the very definition of a “destructive devise,”  as designed to be discharged.  The Florida court will likely interpret the statute most favorably to the accused and conclude that the discharge of a destructive device…the device must explode [and] function as it was intended.[4]

This student’s science experiment was merely that, an experiment.  The plain meaning of an experiment is that of understanding cause and effect, without any intentional outcome.

Although, there are many that would love to ruin someone’s life merely because of fear.  There must be a limit to the absurdity of that fear.  If we begin to arrest and charge all creative minds because their science project has gone bad, we will find ourselves without any great scientist to further societal growth.

The real question is why this student was not being supervised during this science project.  Perhaps the principle and teacher should be liable for failing to supervise the student during a science project instead of placing the blame onto the minor who was under (or should have been under) the supervision of the state (school).

It is clear in the text of the statute that the Florida legislature never intended to prosecute a child when, under the supervision of the state (school) for a science project that goes bad.  This is what happens when we fail to encourage creative thinking and teach critical reasoning to our children, they simply grow up to enforce absurdity and allow fear to control them instead of knowledge.

[1] ABA Journal, Teen faces felony charges in exploding water bottle incident; was it a science project gone bad (2013) available at, http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/teen_faces_felony_charges_in_water_bottle_incident_was_it_a_science_project/

[2] Id.

[3] Florida Statute 790.115(1)

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