Elonis v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: June 1, 2015
  • Case #: 13-893
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SCALIA, KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined.ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

For a person to be convicted under 18 U.S.C.§875(c), the jury must conclude that the convicted person intended for their communication to be a threat to injure another person.

After his wife left him in 2010, Petitioner used the pseudonym “Tone Dougie” to post several obscene and ominous rap lyrics on Facebook. Although Petitioner included disclaimers to preface his lyrical tirades, he was indicted for using social media to communicate threats. During his trial, Petitioner requested the jury be instructed to consider whether he intended to communicate threats. The criminal statute under which Petitioner was indicted makes no explicit mens rea requirement, leading the District Court to deny the request. The jury convicted him under 18 U.S.C. §875(c ), on four out of five counts, for using social media to communicate threats to injure his ex-wife, law enforcement officers, a kindergarten class, and a FBI agent. Petitioner was acquitted of communicating similar messages to patrons and employees of the park. The Court of Appeals agreed that the jury instruction would be improper since the statute required only an intent for the Petitioner to understand his words and that a reasonable person could perceive the content as threatening. On review, the Supreme Court found that criminal statutes implicitly include scienter requirements. The Court reasoned that intent would be determined by the separation of wrongful conduct and “otherwise innocent conduct.” Carter v. United States, 530 U.S. 255, 269 (2000) (quoting United States v. X-Citement Video, Inc., 513 U.S. 64, 72 (1994)). It is the communication of a threat, not simply the communication of something, the Petitioner must have intended. Without this mens rea requirement, the criminal statute becomes a negligence standard and cannot stand without a proper jury instruction. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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