Anthony D. Elonis was indicted for allegedly making violent threats on the social networking site Facebook toward his estranged wife, law enforcement officers, his former co-workers, and to an unspecified kindergarten class. While in Federal Court this past Monday, his criminal defense attorney motioned for dismissal based on the abstract notion that Elonis had not committed a crime because his words were more like the lyrics of an artist who raps an intent to commit violent acts, in the way of rappers like Eminem and Tyler the Creator.

Elonis is charged with violating the federal statute criminalizing “any communication

[in interstate or foreign commerce] containing any threat … to injure the person of another.  As Elonis’ trial opened Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence F. Stengel of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled from the bench against a defense motion to dismiss Elonis’ indictment. Among other arguments, the defense argued that Elonis’ postings were placed in “rhyme settings” and are entitled to First Amendment protection, according to court papers.

From a defense perspective, the basis of the motion to dismiss provides for a provocative and intriguing debate.  Elonis’ defense attorney said that the case is all about context and that his words over Facebook are constitutionally protected.  ”My client uttered those words, but in his position … [he] did not think people were going to perceive him as a threat,” Cooper said. Nonetheless, perception is at the crux of this issue and the central constitutional inquiry revolves around whether  Elonis intended to utter a statement that a “reasonable person” would perceive as a threat.

Here are some of Elonis’ posts:

“Y’all sayin I had access to keys for the all the fuckin’ gates. … Y’all think it’s too dark and foggy to secure your facility from a man as mad as me? You see, even without a paycheck, I’m still the main attraction. Whoever thought the Halloween Haunt could be so fuckin’ scary?’”

“‘I’m checking out and making a name for myself. Enough elementary schools in 10-mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined. And hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class.’”

“‘Took all the strength I had not to turn the bitch ghost. Pull my knife, flick my wrist, and slit her throat. Leave her bleedin’ from her jugular in the arms of her partner.’”

As a reasonable person, would you feel threatened by these statements?

Judge Stengel has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss, and his opinion is forthcoming.

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