Elonis v. US Leaves More Questions Than Answers

by | Jun 6, 2015

This week, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Elonis v. United States, interpreting a federal statute criminalizing threats to injure another, 18 U.S.C. §875(c).  Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the court.  Basically, Section 875(c) is silent on the level of intent, or scienter, the government must prove to find a defendant guilty, and the trial court only instructed the jury on negligence, and the jury convicted the defendant.

Although the Supreme Court held that a negligence standard is not enough to convict a person of Section 875(c), it does not clarify (other than Justice Alito in a concurring opinion) what level of scienter is required.  Read the opinion and tell me what you think is required: recklessness, knowledge, purpose (intent)?  Maybe Justice Alito sums it up in his concurrence, which provides more guidance than the majority opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts.

The court also dodges the question of whether the defendant’s words (he uttered on social media) were afforded any protection under notions of free speech under the First Amendment.

To read Elonis, click here.

If you enjoyed this post, check out this article about criminal defense.

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