The Supreme Judicial Court has upheld the decision of a juvenile court judge who found a Plymouth teenager “delinquent” on the charge of attempt to burn a public building (M.G.L. c. 266, Section 5A).
The charge stems from the teen’s repeated efforts to perform the TikTok “penny challenge” while in class at Plymouth North High School.
The “penny challenge” is described by the SJC in its opinion:
A performer of the challenge would plug the charger into the wall outlet, leaving it slightly removed from the wall, insert a penny behind the charging block, and push the charger back in without causing the penny to make contact with the prongs of the charger. As the charger is pulled back out, the penny slides down, hitting the two prongs of the charger, causing a short circuit, and creating an “electrical arc.”
The Plymouth fire chief, Leo Foley, described an “electrical arc” as
“that bright white light that you see like when recently we had all the damage with the power lines . . . , when those are touching each other it creates an electrical arc, like lightning.
The teen allegedly attempted to create this “electrical arc” at least twice during school hours, once in his history class and again in biology.
Both attempts caused minor damage to the electrical outlets and the wall surrounding them.
After the teen lost his bench trial in juvenile court, he appealed to the SJC arguing that the Commonwealth failed to prove that he had “specific intent” to burn the school.
The SJC rejected this argument and upheld the lower court’s ruling.
The intent to create sparks, which is the “bright white light” indicated in the challenge, is sufficient to demonstrate
an intent to burn. The substantive crime of arson requires proof only that some portion of the property was on fire or burned…Specific intent requires that the juvenile intended his conduct and its consequences, and that the intended consequences met the requirements of the statute. Id. It does not require proof that his intended consequences were as severe as the extant consequences of his actions…His intent to perform the challenge, the purpose of which is to create sparks within the building, equates to an intent to “burn” the property, meeting the requirements of § 5A.
To read the case in its entirety, click the document below.