A person can be found guilty of felony charges for threatening victims based upon Facebook postings.
In one recent case, a criminal defendant was found guilty of threatening his estranged wife, law enforcement officials and a kindergarten class. The defendant did not issue any threatening telephone calls, texts, e-mails or letters. In fact, he did not directly contact the subjects of his threats. He faced felony charges solely due to his Facebook postings.
The defendant was charged with violating the federal statute criminalizing “any communication [in interstate or foreign commerce] containing any threat … to injure the person of another.”
Federal prosecutors, argued the posts were designed to make people in his life became fearful for their lives. Meanwhile, thecriminal defense lawyersin the case unsuccessfully argued the Facebook posts were a way to vent his anger after his home life fell apart and he lost his job. He claimed “I’m using elements of my life fictitiously….It’s therapeutic for me.”
According to court papers, one of the posts was directed against his former employer:
“Y’all sayin I had access to keys for the all the fuckin’ gates. … Y’all
think it’s too dark and foggy to secure your facility from a man as mad as me?
You see, even without a paycheck, I’m still the main attraction. Whoever
thought the Halloween Haunt could be so fuckin’ scary?”
The felony defendant also discussed a court ruling in his wife’s favor: “Fold up your PFA and put in your pocket. Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?” And further discussed, in disturbing – albeit vague – terms, shooting up a kindergarten class:
“I’m checking out and making a name for myself. Enough elementary schools
in 10-mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined.
And hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class.”
The legal issue in controversy was whether an objective, reasonable person would understand the posts could cause someone to feel the defendant’s words carried an intent to inflict injury. Here, the jury determined the answer was yes. However, the case rests upon a fine line.
The tipping point in this case appeared to be the specific nature of the posts and the felony defendant’s apparent intent to make them known to his intended targets. Had he expressed his rage in a more general, or non-literal manner, a different result may have followed.
The message, however, is clear. When you post on a social networking site – assume the world is watching. What you say absolutely can be held against you.