First amendment case on criminal threats pending in SCOTUS

I noticed in last week’s DC Court of Appeals opinions a footnote reference in Gray v. United States to a criminal threats case pending in the US Supreme Court.  The case is Elonis v. United States, where the Court must decide whether the First Amendment requires proof for a threats conviction that the defendant intended to make a threat, or whether proof that a reasonable person would take the words as a threat is enough.

The case could be important for places like DC where the courts have not required proof of intent to threaten.  The dc police bring in a lot of threats cases.  On today’s lockup list for example, 4 of 77 arrestees have a threats charge.  In some cases, the defendant in a threats case never intended to scare anyone, but was merely joking, upset, or blowing off steam when they made some improvident remark such as “I’m gonna kill you.”  Under current law, this is no defense but Elonis could make it one.

Scotusblog has coverage of the case here.

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