Elonis v. United States

135 S.Ct. 2001 (2015)


D's wife of nearly seven years left him, taking with her their two young children. D changed the username on his Facebook and began to post graphically violent language and imagery. This material was often interspersed with disclaimers that the lyrics were “fictitious,” with no intentional “resemblance to real persons.” D posted an explanation to another Facebook user that “I’m doing this for me. My writing is therapeutic.” D’s co-workers and friends viewed the posts in a different light. D posted a photograph of himself and a co-worker at a “Halloween Haunt” event at the amusement park where they worked. D was holding a toy knife against his co-worker’s neck, and in the caption, Elonis wrote, “I wish.” The chief of park security was a Facebook “friend” of D, saw the photograph, and fired him. D’s posts became more frequent and included crude, degrading, and violent material. D made posts regarding the killing of his wife and how certain ways to say it will be illegal and others not. Wife (W) felt “extremely afraid for [her] life.” A state court granted her a three-year protection-from-abuse order against D (essentially, a restraining order). D then posted about how the protection order would not stop a bullet. After the post about a school shooting, the FBI visited D at his house. D was polite but uncooperative and posted another entry on his Facebook page, called “Little Agent Lady,” about using a knife to slit her throat. A grand jury indicted D for making threats to injure patrons and employees of the park, his estranged wife, police officers, a kindergarten class, and an FBI agent, all in violation of 18 U.S.C. §875(c). D requested a jury instruction that “the government must prove that he intended to communicate a true threat.” The jury instructions instead informed the jury that “A statement is a true threat when a defendant intentionally makes a statement in a context or under such circumstances wherein a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted by those to whom the maker communicates the statement as a serious expression of an intention to inflict bodily injury or take the life of an individual.” D was convicted and appealed. The Third Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.