U.S. top court wrestles over online threats prosecution

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 01, 2014 12:38 PM

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court appeared conflicted on Monday over whether to uphold the conviction of a Pennsylvania man found guilty of making threatening statements to his estranged wife, law enforcement officers and others on social media.

The nine justices heard a one-hour oral argument in an appeal filed by Anthony Elonis, who posted a series of statements on Facebook in 2010 soon after his wife left him. The legal question is whether prosecutors needed to show Elonis' intent to threaten or if it was enough for them to show that a reasonable person would have felt threatened.

In weighing Elonis' comments, which were made in the form of rap lyrics, some justices appeared concerned about a broad range of speech being criminalized, including ill-advised remarks by teenagers on social media and songs by rap artists such as Eminem known for violent imagery in their lyrics.

A ruling is expected by the end of June. The case is Elonis v. USA, U.S. Supreme Court, 13-983.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)