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Supreme Court Issue: What Is a 'Real Threat' In Internet Age?

The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to a conviction based on a “real threat” in the internet age. Billy Raymond Counterman seeks to set aside his criminal conviction for stalking. Counterman argues that his Facebook messages to a Colorado musician are protected under the First Amendment and should not be considered a “real threat.” The Colorado stalking law prohibits knowingly and repeatedly following or contacting another person “in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to take serious action.” emotional distress”. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, reports Local News. Counterman's attorneys said federal and state courts have analyzed threats differently, with some judges weighing how a reasonable person would interpret a message, while other jurisdictions weighed the speaker’s intention in deciding whether speech was protected.


“These state conflicts are particularly problematic because they mean that speakers’ constitutional rights depend on the court in which they are charged,” his attorneys said. They asked the high court to provide guidance to all courts on how to interpret the First Amendment and what constitutes a genuine threat. The case arose when Counterman sent messages to a Colorado musician via social media in 2014. She didn’t respond. Some of them read: “Five years on Facebook. Just a few physical sightings.” “Was that you in the white jeep?” “You’re not good for human relationships. To die. I do not need you.” She later contacted the police in 2016 after telling a family member that the news shocked her. She got a protective order. The state of Colorado asked the court not to hear the case, arguing that Counterman admitted to stalking the musician.

“This is a case about stalking and the steps taken by the Colorado General Assembly to protect victims from the intrusive, threatening, and escalating behavior that is characteristic of stalking,” the state argued.

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