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Victims Disappointed by Elonis Outcome

Many victims and advocates were disappointed by the United States Supreme Court decision regarding a case where a former husband posted threatening messages on a social media site aimed at his former wife. The ruling held that the “reasonable person” standard for determining whether the statements made were threats is not enough, and it leaves victims of these acts in a perilous position in the future.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Elonis v. United States, Douglas Elonis created a pseudonym, Tone Dougie, on the social media website Facebook after his wife left him. Under this guise, he posted rap lyrics containing violent imagery and graphically violent language geared towards his former wife, co-workers, a kindergarten class, and law enforcement. The posts were often posted with a disclaimer as “fictitious” and a claim that he was just using his First Amendment rights.

However, many people found his posts threatening and his employer fired him for threatening co-workers with the posts. His wife also sought and was granted a state order of protection against Mr. Elonis. His former employer also informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about Mr. Elonis’ Facebook threats, and he was eventually arrested for five counts of violating 18 U.S.C. §875(c) that states that it is a crime to transmit any communication that is a threat.

At trial, Mr. Elonis submitted a jury instruction that required them to find that he was making a “true threat,” but ultimately the jury was instructed to use a reasonable person standard to determine whether the statements made were threatening. He was convicted on four of the five counts and his conviction was upheld on appeal. Mr. Elonis then appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Ruling of the Court

The Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts’ rulings and overturned the conviction of Mr. Elonis. It held that the reasonable person standard is not enough to determine whether a threat was made in violation of §875(c) and that a mental state requirement must also be proven to the court. The court requires that “the defendant transmits a communication for the purpose of issuing a threat and or with the knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat.”

Response from Advocates

Victims and advocates around the country were disappointed by the ruling made the court in Elonis. The National Center for Victims of Crime stated that “The internet is the crime scene of the 21st century. The laws governing social media require swift interpretation to keep pace with the ever-advancing criminal activity in this space. The Justices today missed the opportunity to define the law and left the victims of this case and others in jeopardy.”

In addition, the Stalking Resource Center criticized the ruling of the court, saying that “this decision fails to recognize that victims of stalking experience fear regardless of the offender’s intent . . . our concern is that this ruling provides enormous space for stalkers and abusers to act. Offenders can simply claim they never intended harm and as a result will not be held accountable.” In 76% of murders of women who were killed by a current or former intimate partner, the victims were stalked and threatened prior to their deaths.

Our Attorneys Can Help

The experienced attorneys at Gary Roberts & Associates have a long history of advocating for victims against their abusers. Call or contact our West Palm Beach office today for a free and confidential review of your case.

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