First Amendment

6th Circuit Upholds Conviction for Threat to Judge in YouTube Song

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The First Amendment doesn’t bar the prosecution of a former Army sergeant who sang and rapped a threat to a judge on YouTube, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Franklin Delano “Dale” Jeffries Jr., report the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. Jeffries’ song, written during a battle over visitation rights, said his daughter’s mother has “parent alienation her” and his next court date better be his last.

“Believe that, or I’ll come after you afterwards,” he sang. “If I have to kill a judge, or a lawyer, or a woman, I don’t care, cause this is my daughter we’re talking about.” At another point, the lyrics said, “You don’t deserve to be a judge and you don’t deserve to live.”

The 6th Circuit said the method of delivering a death threat doesn’t matter as long as a reasonable person would perceive it as real.

“No doubt, it is unusual or at least a sign of the times that the vehicle for this threat was a music video,” the court said in an opinion by Judge Jeffrey Sutton. “Best we can tell, this is the first reported case of a successful [prosecution under the federal law barring threats through interstate commerce] arising from a song or video. One answer to the point is that the statute covers ‘any threat,’ making no distinction between threats delivered orally in person, by phone or in writing letters, emails, faxes, by video or by song, in old-fashioned ways or in the most up-to-date. Nor would this be the first time that an old flask was filled with new wine—that an old statute was applied to a technology nowhere to be seen when the law was enacted.

Jeffries was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He was released earlier this year, but went back to prison for posting threatening tweets and using cocaine, the News Sentinel says. Jeffries’ lawyer, Jonathan Harwell, told the Law Blog his client’s song was misguided humor and he intended to keep fighting the case.

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