Tag Archives: facebook

Man Goes to Jail for a Facebook Like

A Pasco judge found a New Port Richey man in contempt of court for liking a Facebook post: someone had put his ex wife’s picture on a “father’s rights” page alleging that she was abusive. The judge found that he had violated her order against disparaging or threatening the other party in the family law case stemming from their divorce and custody fight. She initially sentenced him to 60 days, but relented a few days later for time served. The limits on social media, and regarding First Amendment ramifications, are something the courts have to grapple with more and more.

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Supreme Court to Consider When Facebook Threats are True Threats

The Supreme Court is going to hear a case next week that will determine when threats posted on social media, in this case Facebook, rise to the level of a true threat. The case in question dealt with comments Anthony Elonis made toward his estranged wife (and others). He was convicted, sentenced to prison, and the case already upheld by the 3rd Circuit.

While the 1st Amendment gives protection to speech, that protection does not extend to ‘true threats’. This case will examine when musings posted on a Facebook wall are protected, and when they go to far. It will have ramifications in Florida, which has harsh punishments for Written Threats, which include social media posts under Florida law.

See Also: Felonies for Facebook posts

You May Get a Felony Charge If You Threaten Somebody on Facebook in Florida

Timothy O'Leary

Timothy O’Leary

The First District Court of Appeals upheld a conviction this week of a man who posted a threat to a family member on Facebook. O’Leary v. State, Slip Op. No. 1D12-0975 (Fla. 1st DCA, 2013). Timothy O’Leary was charged under Florida Statute Section 836.10, which makes it a felony of the second degree to send a written threat to someone. The court, on an issue of first impression, found that posting such a written threat on Facebook constitutes “sending” that message, and qualifies for prosecution under the statute.

The statute was amended in 2010 to include electronic communications. This is the first time that I have heard of Facebook comments, or comments on other social media,being charged under this section of the law. I have some concerns about the law being applied to a Facebook status, but until contrary law is published, such Facebook comments could potentially land you up to fifteen years in prison.

I have some major concerns about this type of prosecution. First, it appears to run afoul of the First Amendment. Publishing comments on Facebook, just like comments in traditional media, are generally going to be protected speech under the First Amendment. The most commonly recognized exceptions are related to speech that will cause an immediate breach of the peace. Oliver Wendell Holmes famously gave the example of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. While this type of threat could be construed as fighting words, the ethereal nature of internet publishing make an immediate breach of the peace unlikely.

Additionally, the “threat” posted in this case is one of a conditional nature. That is, it was not a simple statement intending harm. Instead, it was “if” A occurs, then he would react with “B”- the harm. The threat made was homophobic and particularly nasty, only read the judicial opinion if you are not bothered by coarse language. Bad facts frequently make bad case law. Neither of the concerns I have expressed were discussed in the First District’s opinion, and I don’t even know if the issues were raised. Such a prosecution would not be a slam dunk, in spite of this case, due to the unaddressed legal concerns. That said, it would not be advisable to make threats on Facebook or in any other written form, from letters to text messages. Mr. O’Leary is currently serving ten years for the charges in this case.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/18/3293327/court-threats-posted-on-facebook.html

Police: Woman Arrested For Spreading Facebook Photos Of Undercover Cop

 

Melissa Walthall mug shot

Police: Woman Arrested For Spreading Facebook Photos Of Undercover Cop.  This is fascinating…

Apparently Melissa Walthall has been charged with ‘Retaliation’ for posting the Facebook photo of an undercover officer that testified against her friend.  My gut instinct is that publishing a photo that was previously published on a social media site is highly unlikely to be criminal behavior.  Additionally, while an undercover officer’s identity is should be kept secret, law enforcement’s ability to punish someone for revealing that identity is likely abrogated when they are already publicly identified.  Such identification can occur by testifying in open court, which is apparently what happened here.  That is, it’s not a secret if the guy states his name on the record, and in public, as most court proceedings are.

I actually had to look up the statute for retaliation, as it is not frequently utilized.  My best guess is that agents are proceeding on a theory under section (b) that her conduct threatens bodily injury against a witness who had testified.  I straight reading of the statute would suggest this is an inappropriate application: it appears the statute indicates that the conduct should be threatening.  Disclosure of the identity, which isn’t a private fact if the officer had already been publicly revealed, would have to be coupled some knowledge or intent that it would lead to bodily injury.  That’s what prosecutors are alleging in the Paul Bergrin murder case.  Disclosure itself does not likely constitute a “threat”.  Additionally, I doubt that this could be a “disclosure”, due to the fact that he already testified in public, and because he posted the picture on Facebook.