Recently, a Washington state man by the name of Jaleel Abdul-Jabbaar who posted Facebook comments threatening to shoot former Ferguson, Mo cop Darren Wilson was sentenced. One of his comments included a call to "give back those bullets that Police Officer Darren Wilson fired into the body of Mike Brown.” Federal prosecutors recommended that he spend three years of supervised release. U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik abided to the recommendation, and also ordered him to stay off social media. He accepted the Defendant's defense that the comments were simply a strong reaction to current events, and that Jabbaar had no actual intent to carry out his threat. Jabbar pleaded guilty to making threats back in February.
This isn't the first time the legal question of when “free speech” becomes an illegal threat not protected by the 1st amendment has come up in recent debates. The law is in flux regarding this topic. Another Seattle man, Mark Brian Verhul, was sentenced last year to four years in prison for posting on Facebook a photograph and message that said "This is the cop I am going to kill." The officer pictured had arrested Verhul. A Massachusetts man was also arrested for posting "Put Wings on Pigs" on his Facebook page last December.
Free Speech vs. Criminal Offense
The federal charge of making an interstate threat (what Defendant Jabbar was originally charged with) carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. It is a felony.
The state of Washington classifies criminal offenses as either a misdemeanor or a felony, although some crimes could be charged in either category, depending on the circumstances. Threats are addressed under the fulcrum of harassment in the Revised Code of Washington, which is a gross misdemeanor (punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5000 fine). Harassment charges can be a felony if there was a death threat or there has been a past harassment conviction. In the state of Washington, felony harassment constitutes a Class C felony (punishable by up to 5 years in jail and a $10,000 fine). For a first time offender with no criminal history, the mandatory minimum jail sentence is between 1 and 3 months.
Again, the state of the law over Facebook threats is still developing. Facebook threats may be different because the person making the statements is not 'sending them' to the intended target. Additionally, the person threatened may not be placed in reasonable fear that the threat will be carried out- which makes it not a threat.
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When you understand the potential consequences of a misdemeanor or felony conviction, you will understand how important it is to work with an experienced attorney who knows the local courts and juries. Additionally, in many cases, allegations are frivolous or exaggerated. If this is the case, we will fight to have the charges against you dropped. Criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi will investigate all the facts, speak to witnesses, and corroborate your stories for you. He represents people in any state criminal court in Washington facing a wide range of misdemeanor and felony criminal threat charges. Contact a Seattle traffic violations defense attorney online or call 206-621-8777 to schedule a free initial consultation. 24-hour-a-day call service is available at 206-660-6200.