Facebook threats common here, ADA says

Published 12:56 am Thursday, June 4, 2015

Supreme Court ruling not expected to change prosecution locally

A Supreme Court ruling earlier this week in favor of a Pennsylvania man who posted violent Facebook messages to his ex-wife and multiple other people has garnered media attention, but isn’t likely to affect local prosecutions.

The man had been convicted under a federal threat law.

The high court ruled that it’s not good enough to convict a man solely on the fact that a reasonable person would deem his communications as a threat.

“Our holding makes clear that negligence is not sufficient to support a conviction,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

Locally, Chief Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter said she was disappointed that SCOTUS didn’t address free speech.

Jeter said with the ever-growing social media, law enforcement is seeing a growing number of threats and harassment through social media.

“They left the reckless intent open,” she said. “They really didn’t say what kind of intent you have to have. They left it for the lower courts to decide”

The case revolves around Anthony D. Elonis, who had posted vicious messages on a social media account after his wife left him.

He used rap lyrics for what he claimed was for therapeutic purposes because he was depressed.

“There’s only one way to love you, but a thousand ways to kill you,” he wrote. “Enough elementary schools in a 10-mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined.”

“He posted things that nobody could possibly perceive that is wasn’t a threat,” Jeter said.

Still, Jeter said she didn’t think the ruling would hurt prosecutions of local cases.

“It’s already so difficult to prosecute on domestic violence,” she said. “There are some key issues in these cases. The first is for the victim to get the courage to make the report. Domestic violence is a hard thing for people who have not been in it to understand. I’ve prosecuted cases where the husband has said and texted things like this to the wife. It’s very hard if you say things graphic in nature like you’re going to kill someone – it’s very hard to claim that you didn’t mean it.”

Jeter said she hopes that the media coverage doesn’t discourage victims from coming forward.

“As a general rule, if you think you are being threatened, you should call the police and take action,” she said. “This man posted things against his ex-wife, and his co-workers and even saying there were several kindergarten classes nearby. That should definitely be on someone’s radar. Always, when in doubt, call the police.

Jeter said domestic violence cases vary locally.

“There are people who we have dealt with and they do this once, and we prosecute and it is convicted,” she said. “And we have no more problems.”

Others are not so easy, she said.

“Then we have people who continue to do this sort of thing,” she said. “They go from girlfriend to girlfriend and commit various acts of domestic violence. They just keep on.”

In Alabama, Jeter said the laws have changed for the better in the last few years.

“It’s become if you have two misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, your third conviction is a felony,” she said. “We’ve had people who have had 10-15 convictions. Clearly some of these people have patterns of this type of behavior.”