Right to free speech on social media, favored

Supreme Court of United States– Giving a landmark judgment upholding free speech online, the Court by the majority of 8:1, quashed the Third Circuit decision ruling that it is unnecessary to consider any First Amendment issues and the petitioner’s conviction cannot stand. The Court held that the Third Circuit’s decision, requiring only negligence with respect to the communication of a threat, is not sufficient to support a conviction under 18 U. S. C. §875(c). Section 875(c) requires proof that a communication was transmitted which contained a threat. Roberts CJ, giving the majority judgment further observed that the federal criminal liability generally does not turn solely on the results of an act without considering the defendant’s mental state.

The facts state the petitioner, after his wife left him, under the pseudonym “Tone Dougie,” used the social networking web site Facebook to post self-styled rap lyrics containing graphically violent language and imagery concerning his wife, co-workers, a kindergar­ten class, and state and federal law enforcement. Disclaimers that the lyrics were “fictitious” and not intended to depict real persons, and with statements that Elonis was exercising his First Amendment rights were often dispersed in those posts. The petitioner was charged with five counts of violating 18 U. S. C. §875(c), which makes it a federal crime to transmit in interstate commerce “any communication containing any threat (…) to injure the person of another”.

The Court emphasized that the defendant under Section 875(c) must know that he is transmitting a communication which alone will not make the conduct “wrongful. The mental state requirement must apply to the fact that the communication contains a threat. The petitioner’s conviction herein was premised solely on how his posts would be understood by a reasonable person. The Court further observed that the “reasonable person” is inconsistent with “the conventional requirement for criminal conduct, awareness of some wrongdoing” and the mental state require­ment is satisfied only if the person transmits a communication for the purpose of issuing a threat or with knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat. Elonis v. United States, 575 U.S. __ (2015), decided on 01.06.2015

Join the discussion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.