High Court Issues Narrow Ruling in Overturning One Man’s Conviction Over Threatening Social Media Posts

Anthony D. Elonis was struggling through stage three of the seven stages of grief which milestone is commonly referred to as the “anger” or “hate” stage. His wife dumped him leaving him struggling with her absence. In a bid to work out his frustrations, he took to writing violent rap lyrics which he posted on this Facebook wall. At times, the lyrics invoked the specter of mass shootings at nearby elementary schools. Still, Elonis had the good sense to clearly disclaim his lyrics as being therapeutic expressions of anger, or so he thought. Federal prosecutors saw the lyrics differently and brought him up on charges of making terroristic threats. Elonis fought the charges and lost according to Susan McGalla in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette; he was sentenced to 44 months in federal prison.

During the trial, prosecutors instructed the jury to issue a guilty verdict if a “reasonable” person would find the lyrics to be credible threats. On Monday, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction on the grounds that the standard prosecutors established was “too low”. Chief Justice John Roberts stated that mere “negligence” alone, as illustrated in the violent rap lyrics, did not constitute evidence of a crime. While Elonis is pleased that his conviction has been overturned and his record cleared of the offense, the ruling did not touch upon the larger free speech issue that some had hoped would be addressed. Nor did the ruling offer prosecutors much by way of guideline to avoid similar cases in the future.