by The Center for Individual Rights
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court threw out the conviction of Pennsylvania resident Anthony Elonis, who was prosecuted and was serving a prison sentence for posting rap lyrics on his Facebook page that his ex-wife found threatening. Elonis contended that he didn’t intend to threaten anyone; the lower courts said it didn’t matter what he intended so long as a “reasonable person” would find his postings to be threatening.
In a majority opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court ruled that federal criminal statutes require a finding of criminal intent for conviction unless Congress clearly states otherwise (and here it did not). To have criminal intent (a “guilty mind”) a defendant must know he is doing something wrong — in the Court’s words, that he is not engaging in “otherwise innocent” conduct. Merely showing that a reasonable person would regard Elonis’s posts as threatening was not enough. His mere negligence about that possibility was insufficient for a criminal conviction. Read the entire story.