Bullying Topic of Conversation for Orlando Law Firm After Suicide of 12 Year Old

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The Umansky Law Firm discusses criminal future for bullying cases in Florida

Headshot of Michael Barber

Attorney Michael Barber

It is important that prosecutors exercise restraint and refrain from criminalizing common childish banter.

Bullying has gone on in schools for decades, but in recent years these actions have gone even further and to the extreme. A Polk County District 12 year old committed suicide last year by jumping to her death in an abandoned cement plant. It was reported that Rebecca Ann Sedwick was the victim of extreme bullying at school and “cyber bullying” by two girls when they were not in school. Technology has changed the face of bullying making it a more hurtful crime than ever before.

Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, and her attorney are working to bring about changes in the laws that surround bullying. In the state of Florida, bullying is now classified as “prohibited”, but because of Rebecca’s suicide, her mother is proposing a new bill that would make bullying and cyber bullying a crime. This new law is called “Rebecca’s Law.”

Ms. Norman and her attorney, Matt Morgan, are working diligently on this legislation because they believe that it will prevent bullying in the schools, it would allow children’s parents to have more information on the situation. The charges of aggravated stalking that both girls were originally charged with in the cyber bullying were dropped in November as there was no law to uphold them.

The Umansky Law Firm is a criminal defense firm located in central Florida. Michael Barber, one of the attorneys with the law firm, had this to say about the situation:

“The 2014 bill titled HB 451, commonly known as Rebecca’s Law, presents a new framework for addressing bullying behavior both inside and outside of the school context. If used properly the law could help curb the growing problems associated with bullying. However, it is imperative that the law is interpreted and applied narrowly. There exists a risk that the law could be applied broadly which could lead to prosecution of children for behavior that amounts to mere childish teasing. It is important that prosecutors exercise restraint and refrain from criminalizing common childish banter.”

Bullying is currently defined in the Florida Statutes as systematic and recurring inflicting of psychological distress, physical pain or both. It can include intimidation, threats, teasing, social exclusion, vandalism, physical harassment and humiliation. As the law stands now, there is no mention of cyber bullying, but that would change with the new legislation.

The first and most important use for Rebecca’s Law is in the school environment. Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman began a fund because of the good wishes of the people in the community. Morgan states, that both Tricia and he agree that this first phase of addressing bullying will not need much funding. Awareness is a program that can be taught at the schools in an ongoing effort to reduce the bullying activity. Schools will hold a zero tolerance policy.

No legal action has taken place for Rebecca up until this point, but her mother plans on suing for failure to protect her daughter from bullying. Her lawyer also states that they may file wrongful death suits, but they have not made any announcements yet. These legal actions are meant to express to students that there are consequences for this behavior, and they should be aware of it. The message in the students in schools will be that bullying and cyber bullying is not a game.

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Sarah Zielke
The Umansky Law Firm
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