This past election season was a contentious one and emotions were high. No matter who won, it was bound to rile some. While the U.S. Constitution extends a fair amount of latitude to private citizens who use their First Amendment freedom of expression to voice disdain for leadership, there is a line that can be crossed that could result in criminal charges.
That’s what a Broward County man recently discovered when he was arrested by federal authorities for making threats against then-President-Elect Donald Trump.
The Sun-Sentinel reports the 59-year-old suspect, who lives in Pembroke Pines, is alleged to have made threats to either harm or kill Trump. He was arrested at his home after local law enforcement authorities notified the U.S. Secret Service, who have the duty of protecting Trump.
The posts were made on social media, where he called Trump an “enemy of the state” and voiced his pleasure that President Barack Obama did not outlaw guns because, “I see good use for one now.” This was written above a photograph of Trump with the words, “Not my president” on it.
These remarks were posted on a Facebook thread in which other people were commenting on Trump’s stay at his Palm Beach home over the holidays.
Another comment made by defendant involved a photograph of a man in camouflage holding a sniper rifle with a scope. That image was accompanied by a comment about Trump, followed by the line, “He will never last long!”
An that same post, another user asked defendant what he meant by his comments, to which he responded the other users should keep their eyes open.
Agents tracked the defendant to his home, where he was arrested on a federal charge of threatening the life of a president-elect or inflict bodily harm. The offense carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in a federal prison, plus a possible fine of up to $250,000.
When agents inquired about the comments he’d made, defendant reportedly became confrontational and insisted his rights were protected under the First Amendment. That could be true, though it’s possible defendant may have a case to assert he did not mean them as a serious threat. In all prosecutions regarding threats, the question is typically not so much whether the defendant meant what was said, but whether the victim had reason to believe he or she meant it and a reasonable fear that defendant had the means to carry it out.
Although these charges are federal, there is a Florida state statute that also deals with threats. F.S. 836.10 involves written threats. In order to prove this crime, a prosecutor has to show three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Defendant wrote or composed a threat to kill someone or inflict bodily injury on another;
- Defendant sent or procured that sending of communication to another person;
- The threat was either to the recipient or to a member of his or her family.
In this case, “sending” the communication could mean mailing it, but it also extends to other forms of communication, such as email or social media. However, it’s not considered “sent” until the person being threatened (or his or her family) receives those thoughts.
It’s considered a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and 15 years of probation. The charge is serious, and prosecutors will often seek jail or prison even for first-time offenders, so it’s imperative to speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Facebook threats against Trump land Broward man in jail, feds say, Dec. 23, 2016, By Paula McMahon, The Sun-Sentinel
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