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Can making threats on social media land you in jail?

On June 1st, the US Supreme Court addressed the criminality of violent statements on the internet in its decision in Elonis v. US. The majority opinion left more questions than it answered by simultaneously dismissing the lower Court’s conviction of Elonis and not establishing a clear set of requirements needed to satisfy a conviction.

Anthony Elonis, of Pennsylvania, was initially convicted for making violent Facebook posts including death threats to his wife, thoughts of shooting up an elementary school, and his murderous fantasies about an FBI agent. These statements were published on his 
Facebook page after his wife and two children left him. Elonis’s argument that his words were fictitious song lyrics and his decision to post them was meant as therapeutic response to his anger.

The trial judge ruled that a “reasonable person” standard was sufficient for conviction, under which a reasonable person would interpret the posts as a serious threat to inflict harm on another person.

The U.S Court of Appeals in Philadelphia agreed with this decision, adding that his subjective intent was irrelevant. In other words, it didn’t matter if Elonis meant for his posts to be a joke or a form of therapy.

The US Supreme Court reversed these earlier decisions that based the conviction solely on how the message is received. The opinion was limited in clarity, only telling us what the law is not.

It is not against the law to make statements on social media that others may perceive as threats. Therefore, the “reasonable person” standard was not sufficient for a conviction. The Justices agreed that additional criteria needed to be met for a conviction, but did not set-forth any standard of what that should be.

The bottom-line is that the criminality of threats on social media remains in question. If you find yourself facing criminal charges, including making a violent statement online, you need to contact Fausone Bohn LLP immediately. The sooner you retain us, the sooner we can start working for you. We understand the Michigan criminal justice system and can make the difference between conviction and keeping your freedom. Visit our contact page for more information: /Contact-Us.shtml

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