Elonis v. United States

135 S. Ct. 2001 (2015)

 

RULE:

18 U.S.C.S. § 875(c) requires proof that a communication was transmitted and that it contained a threat. The presumption in favor of a scienter requirement should apply to each of the statutory elements that criminalize otherwise innocent conduct. A defendant under § 875(c) must know that he is transmitting a communication. But communicating something is not what makes the conduct wrongful. The crucial element separating legal innocence from wrongful conduct is the threatening nature of the communication. The mental state requirement must therefore apply to the fact that the communication contains a threat.

FACTS:

After petitioner was left by his wife, petitioner made a series of facebook posts which were perceived to be threatening in nature. This led to his indictment for multiple counts of violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 875(c) . He moved to dismiss his indictment on claims that it was not his intention to threaten anyone. He also requested for a jury instruction that the State must prove that he intended a true threat. Both were denied and petitioner was convicted.

ISSUE:

Did the statute or the First Amendment require that the defendant be aware of the threatening nature of the communication?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

Where petitioner was convicted for transmitting threats in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 875(c) based on statements that he posted on a social networking website, his conviction could not stand, because although neither petitioner nor the government identified any indication of a particular mental state requirement in the text of § 875(c), the mental state requirement applied to the fact that the communication must contain a threat, it was error for the jury to be instructed that the government need prove only that a reasonable person would regard petitioner's communications as threats, and negligence was not sufficient to support a conviction under § 875(c).

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