SCOTUS rules in favor of man convicted of posting threatening messages on Facebook

Washington (CNN)The Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of a Pennsylvania man who posted several violent messages on Facebook and was convicted under a federal threat statute — the first time the Court raised the implications of free speech on social media.

The Court said that it wasn’t enough to convict the man based solely on the idea that a reasonable person would regard his communications as a threat.

“Our holding makes clear that negligence is not sufficient to support a conviction,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.

The Court held that the legal standard used to convict him was too low, but left open what the standard should be. It is a narrow ruling and the Court did not address the larger constitutional issue.

The case concerns a Pennsylvania man, Anthony D. Elonis, who posted several violent messages on his social media account after his wife left him. He claimed he was an artist who turned to rap lyrics for therapeutic purposes to help him cope with depression.

“There¹s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you,” he wrote in one post.

“Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined,” he wrote in another.

He was convicted for violating a federal threat statute.

Elonis appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court arguing that the government should have been required to prove he actually intended to make a threat before sending him to jail for a 44 month term. Instead, the jury was told the standard was whether a “reasonable person” would have understood the words to be a threat.

John P. Elwood, Elonis’ lawyer stressed in court briefs that his client often posted disclaimers noting he was only exercising his freedom of speech. “The First Amendment¹s basic command is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds it offensive or disagreeable,” Elwood wrote. At trial , Elonis testified that his Facebook posts were partly inspired by rap star Eminem.

In court briefs Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr defended the conviction.”He was aware of the meaning and context of his Facebook posts, and those posts communicated a serious expression of an intent to do harm, “Verrilli wrote.Verilli said there was no comparison between Elonis’ threats and the protected speech of commercial rap artists made in a “very different” context. But the ACLU filed a brief in support of Elonis argued that context matters. “Words are slippery things,” wrote Stephen Shapiro. He said that a statute that limits speech “without regard to the speaker¹s intended meaning” runs the risk of punishing protected First Amendment expression simply because it is “crudely or zealously expressed.”

Supreme Court appears unlikely to protect Facebook threats Supreme Court to weigh Facebook threats appears unlikely to protect Facebook threats Supreme Court to weigh Facebook threats

us supreme court

US Supreme Court appears unlikely to protect Facebook threats Supreme Court to weigh Facebook threats

By DAVID G. SAVAGE contact the reporter Courts and the JudiciaryTrials and ArbitrationCrimeHomicideU.S. Supreme CourtU.S. Department of JusticeJohn G. Roberts, Jr.

Should a Facebook user be able to post about killing someone? Supreme Court appears skeptical
Supreme Court may be ready to make it easier to convict those who post threatening messages
In its first case testing the limits of free speech on social media, the Supreme Court showed little interest Monday in extending new protections to people who post messages threatening to kill or hurt others.

The justices sharply questioned the lawyer for a Pennsylvania man who was sent to prison for posting on Facebook about killing his ex-wife and cutting the throat of an FBI agent who investigated the threat.

Citing the 1st Amendment, attorney John Elwood said prosecutors should have been required to prove that the messages were not only perceived as threatening, but that his client, Anthony Elonis, intended to scare and intimidate the individuals.

Related story: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recovering after heart procedure
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David G. Savage
Elonis, a former amusement park worker, insisted that he did not mean to frighten his ex-wife and that the rants were merely a way to blow off steam.

None of the justices appeared to agree.

“How does one prove what’s in somebody else’s mind?” asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, returning to the bench just days after being hospitalized last week to treat a heart blockage. In this case, she said, a “reasonable person [would] think that the words would put someone in fear.”

The case of Elonis vs. United States has drawn attention because the court’s decision could further refine the outer limits of free speech in the digital age.

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As a legal matter, the case does not turn on the fact that the threats were made on Facebook or the Internet. But the spread of social media has led to an explosion of caustic speech and acerbic criticism that some may see as threatening.

Most justices appeared to agree with a government lawyer who argued that online threats should to be taken as seriously as other threats.

“You’re accountable for the consequences” of your words, said Deputy Solicitor Gen. Michael Dreeben, noting that it is a federal crime to transmit “any threat to injure” another person via Internet or telephone.

@Madmen A kook with the same free speech rights as other kooks, and you…
AT 11:46 PM DECEMBER 01, 2014

The case began in 2010 when Elonis turned to his Facebook page after his wife moved out with their two children. Writing in rap-style music lyrics, he said there were “a thousand ways to kill ya, and I’m not gonna rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.”

When his wife obtained a restraining order from a judge, Elonis returned to his Facebook page, pondering whether the court order was “thick enough to stop a bullet.”

He also posted messages that spoke of killing an FBI agent who questioned him and of carrying out the “most heinous school shooting” at a kindergarten.

A jury convicted Elonis for posting threatening messages and a judge upheld the verdict on the grounds that a reasonable person would have seen the posts as threats.
In his appeal to the high court, his lawyer defended Elonis’ statements as free expression, comparing them to rap songs, which often contain violent images and language.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said he was unswayed by that argument. Elonis can claim “it’s therapeutic or it’s art,” but that should not be enough to escape prosecution, he said.

Agreeing, Justice Samuel A. Alito said he did not see how a jury can “get into the mind of this obsessed, somewhat disturbed individual” to decide whether he intended to “cause a panic.”

In previous rulings, the court made clear that “true threats” are not protected by the 1st Amendment. But trial judges have been divided over whether prosecutors must prove the defendant had an intent to frighten or intimate his target.

The justices’ arguments Monday suggested the court may be ready to settle that question, potentially making it easier to convict those who post threatening messages.

Victims of domestic violence urged the justices to uphold the conviction. They said women who are stalked or harassed by ex-spouses and others deserve the protection of the law when threats are made.

Free-speech advocates supported Elonis, saying they worried about giving the government too much power to punish rants and offensive words.

Dreeben, the Justice Department lawyer, said threats to injure, murder or cause mass destruction should be prosecuted and punished as serious crimes. They cause “fear and disruption to society and to the individuals who are targeted,” he said.

For example, he said people who call in a bomb threat to a school deserve to be prosecuted and should not be allowed to hide behind the excuse they were drunk or did not intend to be taken seriously. If you “know what you’re doing,” you can be prosecuted for making a threat, he said.

Similarly, he said, when people are arrested for threatening to kill the president, they can be prosecuted if their words sound like a true threat, regardless of their actual intent. The Secret Service “doesn’t have access to the private intentions of the individual,” he said. “The threat causes the harm.”

United States Supreme Court marked off with Crime Scene Tape

United States Supreme Court marked off with Crime Scene Tape
Friday, 01 February 2013  by William M. Windsor

united states supreme court crime scene

US Supreme Court Crime Scene

The United States Supreme Court has been roped off with crime scene tape.

Crimes have been committed inside these hallowed halls.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the FBI or the police stretching out the Crime Scene banner, it was members of the Lawless America Revolution.

The 150-foot long 4-foot high CRIME SCENE banner was unfurled in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Security, police, and others looked on with shocked expressions.

For those who are unaware, the federal courts in America are a criminal racketeering enterprise, and the Supreme Court is as corrupt as it gets.  Even the Clerk’s Office of the Supreme Court is outrageously corrupt.

Bill Windsor of Lawless America has charges the U.S. Supreme Court justices with treason, and if a federal grand jury does not indict them, Windsor plans to bring charges of treason and much more to a citizen grand jury.  It’s time to clean house and replace all the corrupt judges with honest people who are accountable.

US Supreme Court Crime Scene

US Supreme Court Crime Scene


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