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Supreme Court grants certiorari to resolve intent question in threat cases under 18 U.S.C. § 875(c)

On June 16, 2014, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Elonis v. United States, No. 13-983 (Third Circuit opinion here). Anthony Elonis was convicted after trial of posting threatening communications on Facebook, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c). Applying an objective intent standard, the Third Circuit upheld Elonis's conviction, finding the evidence sufficient to support the jury's conclusion that the Facebook statements constituted true threats.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a circuit split on the intent issue. The question presented by Elonis's cert petition is:

Whether, consistent with the First Amendment and Virginia v. Black, conviction of threatening another person under 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) requires proof of the defendant's subjective intent to threaten, as required by the Ninth Circuit and the supreme courts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont; or whether it is enough to show that a “reasonable person” would regard the statement as threatening, as held by other federal courts of appeals and state courts of last resort.

The Court ordered the parties to also address the following question:  Whether, as a matter of statutory interpretation, conviction of threatening another person under 18 U.S.C. 875(c) requires proof of the defendant's subjective intent to threaten.


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  1. This subject matter is only going to become more important as our lives become more digital.

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