Online threats only illegal if intentional, rules Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has reversed the decision to convict a Pennsylvania man who directed violent online threats at his ex-wife, citing intent as necessary legal grounds for conviction, reports Time.

The majority ruled that prosecutors must do more than prove that reasonable people would view statements made online as threats, taking into consideration the defendant’s state of mind and whether or not there is ‘true intent’ behind violent language.

The case in question revolves around Anthony Elonis, who took to Facebook to rant against his ex-wife using language of extreme violence, while also quoting song lyrics from the rapper Eminem. The defendant argues that the online threats were not genuine, falling under a form of free speech which is protected by the First Amendment.

Endgadget notes that The Elonis case will now be looked at again by a smaller court, but the ruling could have wider implications in discussions around free speech and online conversations which turn violent.

According to the New York Times, Chief Justice Roberts explained the majority decision came on criminal grounds related to intent rather than free speech as protected by the First Amendment.

“Federal criminal liability generally does not turn solely on the results of an act without considering the defendant’s mental state. That understanding ‘took deep and early root in American soil’ and Congress left it intact here,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts on behalf of seven justices.

Meanwhile Justice Thomas, who was in the minority that would have would have upheld Mr. Elonis’ conviction, argues that defining ‘true intent’ will be difficult in this and similar cases. “This failure to decide,” he wrote, “throws everyone from appellate judges to everyday Facebook users into a state of uncertainty.”

Author , ESET

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