Switch to ADA Accessible Website
Orlando Criminal Lawyer

When Does Offensive Speech Cross The Line Into Criminal Activity?


The First Amendment provides broad protections for freedom of speech. Even if particular speech is upsetting or produces a strong emotional reaction in the listener, that does not make the speech criminal. At least in most cases. The courts have recognized some exceptions to the First Amendment, including one for “true threats.”

As defined by the U.S. Supreme Court, if you “communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals,” that is not protected speech. Furthermore, federal law prohibits anyone from using the Internet to communicate a “threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another” or engage in other acts that may be considered “cyberstalking.”

Federal Court Upholds Conviction of Florida Man Who Threatened Parkland Shooting Survivors

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed a case, United States v. Fleury, where a Florida man was convicted of these very crimes. The defendant argued the convictions violated his First Amendment rights. The appellate court disagreed.

This case actually has its origins in another highly publicized criminal incident, the 2018 mass murders at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The defendant had nothing to do with that case. But according to federal prosecutors, the defendant decided to harass some of the Parkland survivors through social media. In some of the messages, prosecutors said the defendant actually used the name of the actual Parkland shooter as a pseudonym. Many of these messages contained specific threats to kill the Parkland survivors, such as, “With the power of my AR-15 you all die.”

Law enforcement eventually traced the messages to the defendant. Prosecutors charged him with four counts of making threats and cyberstalking. At trial, the defendant admitted to sending the messages. But he argued that due to the fact he was autistic and suffered from ADHD, he “did not understand that his actions would cause substantial emotional distress to others.” The jury did not accept this defense and convicted the defendant on all charges. The judge subsequently imposed a sentence of more than 5 years in federal prison.

In upholding the sentence and conviction, the 11th Circuit said the defendant’s messages were not protected speech under the First Amendment. The defendant was not addressing matters of “public concern” when he contacted the Parkland victims; rather, he was “focused only on exacerbating the victims’ grief.” More to the point, the messages viewed as a whole “indicated a serious expression of an intent to commit an unlawful act of violence toward each victim.”

Contact Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today

Speech–even offensive speech targeting crime victims–can still be protected speech under the First Amendment. But there is a line when such speech may cross the line into criminal activity. If you are facing possible criminal charges arising from the exercise of your civil rights and need representation from a qualified Orlando federal crime lawyer, contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.



  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn

Miami Office

1200 Brickell Avenue, Suite 1410
Miami, FL 33131
Office: 305-999-5100
Fax: 305-999-5111

Orlando Office

250 N Orange Ave, Suite 750
Orlando, FL 32801
Office: 407-705-2626
Fax: 407-705-2625

Email Us

Fields Marked * Are required

DISCLAIMER: Completing and submitting this form or otherwise merely contacting The Baez Law Firm or any individual at the firm will not establish an attorney/client relationship. Our firm cannot represent you until we determine that there would be no conflict of interest and that we are otherwise able to accept representation of your case. Please do not send any information or documents until a formal attorney/client relationship has been established through an interview with an attorney and you have been given authorization in the form of an engagement letter with The Baez Law Firm. Any information or documents sent via this form or otherwise prior to your receipt of an engagement letter will not be treated as confidences, secrets, or protected information of any nature. Submitting information regarding your potential case will not bar The Baez Law Firm from representing or continuing to represent a person or entity whose interest are adverse to your in condition with your case.

protected by reCAPTCHA Privacy - Terms
Please review the highlighted fields. They are required.
DISCLAIMER: This website contains information about The Baez Law Firm that includes testimonial statements from persons who are familiar with the firm's services. The testimonials shown are not necessarily representative of every person's experience with us. Testimonials from every client are not provided. As no two situations or persons are identical, the facts and circumstances of your situation may differ from those for which testimonials are shown. This website also includes information about some of the past results that we have obtained for our clients. Not all results are provided, and the results shown are not necessarily representative of all results obtained by us. No two situation are exactly alike; every person's situation is unique and the outcome for each person depends on the individual facts.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.
MileMark Media - Practice Growth Solutions

© 2015 - 2024 Baez Law Firm. All rights reserved.
This law firm website and legal marketing are managed by MileMark Media.

Contact Form Tab Contact Form Tab