When Facebook Threats Are Not Criminal

When Facebook Threats Are Not CriminalIn early June 2015, the U. S. Supreme Court reversed the criminal conviction of Anthony Elonis for Facebook comments about killing his ex-wife and the female FBI agent who visited him to discuss his threatening “rap” comments.

The crux of the conviction’s reversal is the “criminal intent” requirement for criminal convictions. Elonis was convicted under a Pennsylvania statue that bans interstate communications containing “any threat to injure the person of another” but requiring only a negligence standard that the communication would make a reasonable person feel threatened.

Eliminating the requirement of criminal intent on Elonis’ part was fatal to the conviction. In Elonis’ own words, the threatening rap lyrics were therapeutic responses to the breakup of his marriage and his termination of employment at an amusement park (though probably not as a clown).

Mind you, the Supreme Court did not applaud Elonis for his “therapeutic” Facebook comments toward his wife, such as, “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.”

Furthermore, the Court did not necessarily appreciate his words to his former employer: “Someone once told me that I was a firecracker. Nah, I’m a nuclear bomb and Dorney Park just (messed around) with the timer. … y’all haven’t heard the last of Anthony Elonis.”

Neither did the Court approve of his response to the FBI agent’s visit regarding his statement to Dorney Park: “Little agent lady stood so close, took all the strength I had not to turn the bitch ghost. Pull my knife, flick my wrist and slit her throat.”

The Supreme Court returned Elonis’ case to the lower court without specific clarification of the standard of proof. Meanwhile, Elonis has additional problems: in April 2015, he was charged with simple assault and harassment for allegedly hurling a pot that hit his girlfriend’s mother’s head, probably “therapeutically.”

By Kathy Catanzarite

Source: Kathy Catanzarite – Staff Writer
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