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High court throws out conviction for Facebook threats

Justice

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday threw out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man convicted of making threats on Facebook, but dodged the free speech issues that had made the case intriguing to First Amendment advocates.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for seven justices, said it was not enough for prosecutors to show that the comments of Anthony Elonis would make a reasonable person feel threatened.

But the court did not specify to lower courts exactly what the standard of proof should be.

Elonis was prosecuted under a law banning illegal threats after he posted Facebook rants in the form of rap lyrics about killing his estranged wife, harming law enforcement officials and shooting up a school.

Elonis claimed the government had no right to prosecute him if he didn’t actually intend his comments to be threatening to others. He argued that his musings were protected by the First Amendment. But the Obama administration said the test is whether the comments would strike fear in a reasonable person.

The high court said it was not necessary to reach First Amendment issues in reversing Elonis’ conviction. Roberts said the reasonable person standard is “inconsistent with the conventional requirement for criminal conduct — awareness of some wrongdoing.”

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