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Can a Facebook post lead to criminal charges? One court says yes.

| May 16, 2016 | Criminal Appeals |

A case out of Pennsylvania is bringing attention to the slippery slope of freedom of speech and terroristic threats. The case begins with a man who was charged with fleeing law enforcement. During the investigation for this crime, police uncovered a posting on Facebook that included what they claimed were terroristic threats. The posting is of a rap video written and performed by the accused. The song includes names of officers set to testify against the accused and includes threatening statements.

The primary question at issue in this case was whether or not the posting of this video on Facebook was sufficient to communicate a threat to the officers. The court ultimately found that posting this information in this manner was sufficient. According to the opinion, the author of the post wanted the officer “to hear his message, and they did. He successfully and intentionally communicated his threat.”

The case: Haven’t we been down this road before?

A terroristic threat is essentially defined by law to occur when a person communicates a threat, either directly or indirectly, that a violent crime will be committed with the intent to terrorize another, that an act will be committed that would result in the evacuation of a building or that would cause a serious public inconvenience. The court clarifies that the threat does not need to be directly communicated and that the author of the threat does not need to intend to carry out the threat.

This is not the first case that has questioned whether a post made on social media sites, like Facebook, can constitute a terroristic threat. The Supreme Court of the United States decided on a case with a similar issue in 2015, finding that the accused’s mental state should be taken into consideration when determining if the statement is truly a threat. In this instance, it is argued that the accused was well aware of the power of his words. Lyrics within the rap state that his mother warned him not to share the rap, but that the author was going to make the city believe him.

Ultimately, the accused was found guilty and sentenced to serve up to four years imprisonment.

The case: What can you learn from this man’s mistake?

This case provides a learning opportunity. Those who are facing criminal charges may find their social media accounts under scrutiny. It is wise to tread carefully and refrain from posting hateful or violent comments. However, those who face criminal charges in connection to a post have rights. Our country prides itself on its protections of free speech. As a result, those who find themselves facing such charges should seek legal counsel to better ensure that their legal rights are protected.


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