Right to free speech on social media, favored

Court of United States-
Giving a landmark judgment upholding free speech online, the Court by the
majority of 8:1, quashed the Third Circuit decision ruling that it is
unnecessary to consider any First Amendment issues and the petitioner’s
conviction cannot stand. The Court held that the Third Circuit’s decision,
requiring only negligence with respect to the communication of a threat, is not
sufficient to support a conviction under 18 U. S. C. §875(c). Section 875(c)
requires proof that a communication was transmitted which contained a threat.
Roberts CJ, giving the majority judgment further observed that the federal
criminal liability generally does not turn solely on the results of an act
without considering the defendant’s mental state.The facts state the petitioner, after his wife left
him, under the pseudonym “Tone Dougie,” used the social networking web site Facebook
to post self-styled rap lyrics containing graphically violent language and
imagery concerning his wife, co-workers, a kindergar­ten class, and state and
federal law enforcement. Disclaimers that the lyrics were “fictitious” and not
intended to depict real persons, and with statements that Elonis was exercising
his First Amendment rights were often dispersed in those posts. The petitioner
was charged with five counts of violating 18 U. S. C. §875(c), which makes it a
federal crime to transmit in interstate commerce “any communication containing any
threat (…) to injure the person of another”.

The Court emphasized that the defendant under Section
875(c) must know that he is transmitting a communication which alone will not
make the conduct “wrongful. The mental state requirement must apply to the fact
that the communication contains a threat. The petitioner’s conviction herein
was premised solely on how his posts would be understood by a reasonable
person. The Court further observed that the “reasonable person” is inconsistent
with “the conventional requirement for criminal conduct, awareness of
some wrongdoing” and the mental state require­ment is
satisfied only if the person transmits a communication for the purpose of
issuing a threat or with knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat. [Elonis v. United States, 575
U.S. __ (2015), decided on 01.06.2015]
Source: Legal news India

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