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Monday, July 07, 2014

Ind. Courts - "Threats v. satire in social media age"

A very long and important story today by Dave Bangert of the Lafayette Journal Courier. The nutshell subhead: "Did Samuel Bradbury write threats or satire when he threatened judges and cops and vowed to blow up the Tippecanoe County Courthouse? Similar free speech questions headed to Supreme Court. Some quotes:

Here's a pro tip: When posting explosives-making/courthouse-bombing/judge-threatening "satire" on Facebook, don't have bomb materials on hand when federal agents come to check your business.

The attorneys for Samuel Bradbury are pinning their defense on the First Amendment and four words their client stuck at the end of a June 19 social media post: "FREE SPEECH EXERCISE FOOLS."

Was the 22-year-old Pine Village man just blowing smoke in a creative writing exercise about his links to Lafayette natives Jerad and Amanda Miller, who killed three before dying in a June shootout in Las Vegas, or making a series of specific threats? Either way, the timing of his posts lines up with a case heading to the U.S. Supreme Court — one that First Amendment scholars say could go a long way toward clarifying what constitutes a true threat in the age of social media.

For now, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Rodovich wasn't taking chances. Last week, Rodovich issued a no-bond order, ruling that Bradbury constituted "a danger to the community" because of his criminal history and what he wrote ahead of that disclaimer — threats to blow the Tippecanoe County Courthouse to pieces and naming the Tippecanoe County sheriff, a West Lafayette police officer, a Tippecanoe County judge and an Indiana Supreme Court justice as specific targets.

That, and the stockpiled aluminum powder and black iron oxide — precursors for the thermite Bradbury said he and his band of "765 Anarchists" were going to use to take out the courthouse — found in his home during a June 21 search.

"The court," Rodovich wrote, "does not have to accept his disclaimer, particularly in light of the magnitude of his (threats)."

Bangert then expands the story to look at a case pending before the SCOTUS, involving:
Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvania man who used his Facebook page to post rap lyrics that contained references to killing his former wife, who had left him and taken their kids in 2010.

In one, Elonis, under the pseudonym Tone Dougie, suggested a Halloween costume for his son that included his wife's head on a stick. His wife took his posts as real threats. Elonis, who used emoticons and other disclaimers with his posts, said they were First Amendment exercises. One disclaimer read: "Art is about pushing limits. … I'm willing to go to jail for my constitutional rights."

Elonis did. He eventually was sentenced to 44 months in federal prison. The trial judge ruled that a "reasonable person" could take his posts "as a serious expression of an intention to inflict bodily injury or take the life of an individual," regardless of whether Elonis planned to turn words into action. That, the judge ruled, was not protected speech.

In June, Elonis' lawyers petitioned for — and were granted — an upcoming Supreme Court review, saying the digital age needs clarification on what amounts to a true threat.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 7, 2014 10:35 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts