Menu
Supreme Court: Violent Facebook posts not criminal

Supreme Court: Violent Facebook posts not criminal

The court overturns the interstate threats conviction on a Pennsylvania man based on posts made about his wife

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday overturned the interstate threats conviction of a Pennsylvania man for posting violent lyrics on Facebook

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday overturned the interstate threats conviction of a Pennsylvania man for posting violent lyrics on Facebook

A Pennsylvania man who posted violent rap lyrics and other comments on Facebook about his estranged wife, an FBI agent and nearby elementary schools is not guilty of making criminal threats, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided.

Justices, in a 7-2 decision released Monday, overturned the 2011 conviction of Anthony Douglas Elonis on charges of using interstate commerce to threaten another person with injuries. Elonis was sentenced to 44 months in prison on four counts.

Using the pseudonym Tone Dougie, Elonis posted violent lyrics by rapper Eminem as well as his own fantasies about killing or injuring his wife and other people.

In one post, Elonis wrote: "I'm not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts."

But during Elonis' trial, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania failed to consider the defendant's intentions for the Facebook posts, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. The lower court told the jury that prosecutors needed to prove only that a reasonable person would regard Elonis' posts as threats, but the court should have also considered his "mental state," Roberts wrote.

Elonis' "material was often interspersed with disclaimers that the lyrics were 'fictitious,' with no intentional 'resemblance to real persons,'" Roberts wrote. "Elonis posted an explanation to another Facebook user that 'I'm doing this for me. My writing is therapeutic.'"

Elonis' lawyers argued his Facebook posts were a way to vent his frustrations about the break-up with his wife and protected as free speech, but prosecutors said his comments were often targeted at specific people.

About a female FBI agent who investigated the posts, Elonis wrote: "Little Agent Lady stood so close; took all the strength I had not to turn the (expletive) ghost; pull my knife, flick my wrist, and slit her throat."

A post about nearby elementary schools: "Enough elementary schools in a ten mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.


Follow Us

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags internetFacebooklegalsocial networkingInternet-based applications and servicesCriminalU.S. Supreme CourtU.S. District Court for the Eastern District of PennsylvaniaJohn RobertsAnthony Douglas ElonisEminem

Events

Featured

Slideshows

Channel kicks 2021 into gear as After Hours returns to Auckland

Channel kicks 2021 into gear as After Hours returns to Auckland

After Hours made a welcome return to the channel social calendar with a bumper crowd of partners, distributors and vendors descending on The Pantry at Park Hyatt in Auckland to kick-start 2021.

Channel kicks 2021 into gear as After Hours returns to Auckland
The Kiwi channel gathers for the 2020 Reseller News Women in ICT Awards

The Kiwi channel gathers for the 2020 Reseller News Women in ICT Awards

Hundreds of leaders from the New Zealand IT industry gathered at the Hilton in Auckland on 17 November to celebrate the finest female talent in the Kiwi channel and recognise the winners of the Reseller News Women in ICT Awards (WIICTA) 2020.

The Kiwi channel gathers for the 2020 Reseller News Women in ICT Awards
Leading female front runners honoured at the 2020 Reseller News Women in ICT Awards

Leading female front runners honoured at the 2020 Reseller News Women in ICT Awards

The leading female front runners of the New Zealand ICT industry joined together for the annual Reseller News Women in ICT Awards event at the Hilton in Auckland, during which hundreds of guests celebrated 13 outstanding individuals who won awards, chosen from more than 50 finalists representing over 30 organisations.

Leading female front runners honoured at the 2020 Reseller News Women in ICT Awards
Show Comments