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Supreme Court to Decide Whether Making Violent Threats on Facebook Is Criminal

The high court takes up the case of a man imprisoned after making death threats on Facebook.

The Supreme Court announced plans to wade into the issue of whether you can go to jail for posting violent or threatening messages on social media sites — even when your intent to actually carry out those actions is unclear.

The court Monday said it will consider the case of Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvania man who was sentenced to almost four years in federal prison in 2010 for posting violent threats about killing his ex-wife and law enforcement on Facebook.

Elonis said he never intended to hurt anyone and argued his threats were clearly not meant to be taken seriously. His threatening rants often took the form of rap-style lyrics, according to the Morning Call, a local paper that has covered the case. Lower courts rejected his defense that the comments were protected under the First Amendment.

The justices plan to look into whether “as a matter of statutory interpretation, conviction of threatening another person under [federal law] requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to harm.”

The court will take up the case in the fall, when the justices get back from their summer break. They’re wrapping up their current term and are expected to release more than a dozen decisions in the next two weeks or so, including the closely watched case involving streaming TV startup Aereo.

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