Is an Online Threat Protected by the First Amendment?
On December 22, a man was arrested for making online threats against then President-Elect, Donald Trump. 59-year-old Kevin Keith Krohn of Broward County posted the following message to Facebook: “I’m just glad Obama didn’t take all our gunz! I see a good use for one now. He’s not my president. He’s an enemy of the state.” Krohn posted the message on a thread related to Trump’s holiday vacation at his Palm Beach home. Further down in the thread, Krohn posted a picture of a man in camouflage holding a sniper rifle with the caption, “The EXPEDITER of Trump! He will never last long!” When another Facebook user asked Krohn what he meant by his comment, Krohn replied, “Keep yer eyes open!”
When the authorities showed up to Krohn’s home on Thursday evening and inquired about the threats, Krohn became confrontational and declared that his statements were an expression of his First Amendment rights. What Krohn did not realize is that threats against the President and successors to the Presidency are a violation of 18 U.S. Code § 871, and are subject to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
Krohn will be given a chance to defend himself, but seeing as he clearly violated the law, he will likely be found guilty of threatening the then President-Elect.
Online Threats Against Non-Government Officials
Threatening a government official is one thing, but what if the online threats are intended for another civilian? One case that drew widespread attention was Elonis v. United States, 13-983. Anthony Elonis posted a series of graphically violent rap lyrics on Facebook about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a kindergarten class, and attacking an FBI agent. When his wife reported him, he was convicted of a federal law that makes it a crime to threaten another person. However, Elonis’s case sparked the question: did Elonis’s posts, and do others like it, deserve protection under the First Amendment? Elonis believes they do.
According to Elonis, his Facebook posts were simply a crude way of expressing his emotions, and that they could not be considered a true threat because he did not really mean it. The court, on the other hand, claimed that what a person intends does not matter; what matters is how the threat is perceived by an objective party. Though there are advocates that claim that “A statute that proscribes speech without regard to the speaker’s intended meaning runs the risk of punishing protected First Amendment expression simply because it is crudely or zealously expressed,” the Supreme Court has held, and will continue to uphold, their ruling that “true threats” are not protected under the First Amendment.
Elonis was arrested for the verbal attacks against his wife, and several others against other individuals, and sentenced to four years in federal prison.
An Orlando Criminal Lawyer Provides Strong Defense Against Charges of Online Threats
If you have recently been charged with making threats to another individual via Facebook, Twitter, Email, or any other online channel, it would be in your best interest to hire an Orlando criminal defense lawyer right away. Contact the legal professionals at The Baez Law Firm to see how we can help you build a case against online threat charges brought against you. Call 800-588-BAEZ to schedule a free consultation today.