Case Involves the Use of Social Media in Threatening Others
Mintz, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. filed an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and domestic violence coalitions in more than twenty-five states. The case, Elonis v. United States, involves the use of social media to transmit threatening messages over the Internet in violation of 18 U.S.C. §875(c). The brief was filed on October 6, 2014.
In 2010, Anthony Elonis was convicted of violating Federal law prohibiting the use of interstate communications to threaten to harm individuals after he posted multiple threats on his Facebook page, often in the form of rap lyrics, against his estranged wife, her children and family. Mr. Elonis’ threats increased after his wife obtained a protection from abuse order against him. He also threatened to commit a shooting at an elementary school and to injure an FBI agent who was investigating the case. Mr. Elonis was convicted of four federal charges and sentenced to 44 months in prison.
Mr. Elonis appealed his conviction claiming that the court should have required the government to prove that he specifically intended to threaten his wife (and the others) when he posted the statements, and that the court’s failure to do so violated his right to free speech. At his trial, the jury was told that the legal standard for whether something is an unprotected “true threat” is if an objective person could consider Mr. Elonis’ posts to be threatening. Mr. Elonis claims that the correct test should look at whether he intended for the posts to be understood as threats.
“This case is not about protected speech; it’s about threats of violence, which have never enjoyed First Amendment protection—and for good reason: threats cause fear and they force victims to change their lives, sometimes quite drastically,” said Susan M. Finegan, a Member of Mintz Litigation Section and Chair of the Firm’s Pro Bono Committee. “This is particularly true in the context of intimate partner violence and stalking, where threats of violence are one of the principal tools used by perpetrators to gain and maintain power over their victims.”
Opening arguments in the case are scheduled for December 1.
The amicus brief was authored by Mintz attorneys Helen Gerostathos Guyton, Sandra Badin, and Timothy Slattery.
The U.S. National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), a nonprofit charitable organization, is the leading voice for domestic violence victims and their advocates. NNEDV members include all 56 of the state and territorial coalitions against domestic violence, which have over 2,000 local programs. NNEDV has been a premiere national organization advancing the movement against domestic violence for over 20 years, having led efforts to pass the landmark Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and to reauthorize and strengthen countless laws and regulations to increase safety and end violence. To learn more about NNEDV, please visit www.nnedv.org. To learn more about NNEDV, please visit www.nnedv.org.