February 24, 2016 Articles

Supreme Court Sidesteps First Amendment, Voids Criminal Conviction

Violent posts on Facebook: What constitutes a true threat and guilty mind?

By Farrah Champagne

The Supreme Court recently voided the criminal conviction of Anthony Elonis, a man who posted violent threats on Facebook, making it more difficult for prosecutors to convict those who publish violent lyrics and statements on social media sites. Although this may have been a win for hip-hop artists, heavy metal bands, jokesters, and satirists, it could be considered a loss for victims of domestic violence. Now victims and advocates must ask, does this recent ruling give so-called aspiring rappers the freedom to post violent threats in a lyrical format as a way to terrorize their former intimate partners?

In Anthony D. Elonis v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2001 (June 1, 2015), the Court evaluated violent Facebook posts and considered the actual meaning of a true threat and “guilty mind.” In rendering its decision, the Court analyzed and interpreted the federal criminal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 875(c), that provides that a defendant can be convicted only if it has been proven that (1) the defendant transmitted a communication, (2) the communication was transmitted in interstate or foreign commerce, and (3) the communication was a threat to injure another person.

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