The Supreme Court ruled in a closely watch case that defines when an online rant is free speech, and when it becomes a criminal threat.
In a closely-watched case about free speech online, the Supreme Court on Monday overturned by a 7-2 margin the conviction of a man whose online rants landed him in prison.
The case involved Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvania man who used Facebook FB 1.17% to make a series of violent rants against his wife and others, often citing the rapper Eminem and using hip-hop lyrics. He claimed his rants did not amount to “true threats,” and that his comments were jokes and a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.
The court sided with Elonis, finding that simply using a reasonable person standard was inadequate for conviction; instead, prosecutors must show that the writer in question actually meant the words to be threatening.
“Federal criminal liability generally does not turn solely on the results of an act without considering the defendant’s mental state. That understanding “took deep and early root in American soil” and Congress left it intact here,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority.
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