Facebook Post lands man in jail, facing 10 years in prison – $500,000 bail – Government gone mad
Americans were still reeling from the elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., when Justin Carter allegedly committed his crime in New Braunfels, a city in central Texas.
“I think I’ma [sic] shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them,” the 19-year-old wrote Feb. 13 on a public Facebook page in response to a taunt by one of his friends. The posting came some two months after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the school.
ReutersSeveral Facebook users also reported Justin Carter’s comments to the social-media company and authorities, according to Ivan Friedman, his lawyer.
Mr. Carter and his parents say the comments were made in jest. But local prosecutors are treating them as a terrorist threat, a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two years to 10 years in prison.
Mr. Carter has been in jail since his arrest in March, being held on a $500,000 bond. He has rejected a plea deal in which he would serve eight years in prison, said his lawyer, Ivan Friedman. A trial date hasn’t been set.
Mr. Carter’s case is the latest in which social-media comments prompted a criminal prosecution.
A Massachusetts rapper, 18-year-old Cameron D’Ambrosio, was arrested in May for posting lyrics on Facebook that included “f— a boston bombinb [sic] wait til u see the s— I do.” He was released a month later, after a grand jury declined to indict him; his lawyer had said he wasn’t a threat to society.
And Donte Jamar Sims, 22, of Charlotte, N.C., was sentenced to six months in June after pleading guilty to threatening the life of the president; he had tweeted “Ima assassinate president Obama this evening!”
Constitutional scholars say the legal question these cases raise is an old one: When does disturbing speech amount to a true threat? Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert at University of California, Los Angeles, said Mr. Carter could make the case that his comments “could reasonably be understood as a joke or hyperbole” and thus amount to protected speech. He also could argue his post was too general—he didn’t identify a school, for instance—to be considered a true threat, Mr. Volokh said.
The prosecutor in Mr. Carter’s case, Comal County District Attorney Jennifer Tharp, declined to comment.
But Jonathan Blodgett, the Essex County district attorney who oversaw the Massachusetts case, defended his office’s actions. “It’s easy for some to dismiss a Facebook post or a text as a joke,” he said in an email, adding that Mr. D’Ambrosio’s Facebook post triggered dozens of reports, from concerned students to school officials.
Several Facebook users also reported Mr. Carter’s comments to the social-media company and authorities, according to Mr. Friedman, his lawyer.
For Mr. Carter’s family, the cases illustrate the naiveté of teens who communicate online as they do in private, without considering the ramifications. “When he was arrested, he said, ‘Wow, I guess what you say on Facebook really does matter,’ ” said Jennifer Carter, his mother. “He had no comprehension, as most teens don’t, that what they’re saying on the Internet isn’t just being viewed by them and the people who know them.”
Ms. Carter said police records and the criminal indictment of her son omit a crucial detail: According to Mr. Carter, he later posted “j/k,” shorthand for “just kidding,” during the Facebook conversation.
The district attorney’s office hasn’t turned over the full conversation, which Facebook removed. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Write to Joe Palazzolo at [email protected]