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April 09, 2005

Court of Appeals: Threatening Letter to President "Protected Political Speech"

The Ninth Circuit... what a shock:

A federal appeals court Friday overturned an inmate’s conviction for writing a crude, rambling letter endorsing President Bush’s death at the hands of terrorists — two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The letter from Oregon State Penitentiary prisoner Jonathan Lincoln, who was charged with threatening the president and given an 18-month sentence last year, read, in part: “You will die too George W Bush real Soon they Promised That you would Long Live Bin Laden.”

Corrections officials intercepted the letter; Lincoln had been serving a 46-month sentence for robbery.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the letter was protected under the First Amendment, calling it “Lincoln’s crude and offensive method of stating a political opposition to the president.” The court noted “such political hyperbole does not constitute a ‘threat.”’

There you go. Mere "political hyperbole" does not constitute a "threat."

Now, you may be thinking, "Gee, maybe they got this one right. After all, a threat is more than a wish for harm to come to pass. It's a statement of intent to cause harm to occur."

But no. Read on:

The decision reversed a ruling by Judge James A. Redden, who tried the case without a jury. Redden ruled the letter constituted a "true threat" when combined with statements Lincoln made six months earlier to a Secret Service agent that he wanted to assassinate the president.

I hope the judges can live with the consequences of their rulings. I don't support threats or violence against political figures, but I do hope they realize that they are political figures as well.

Free speech = the right to threaten assassination of political figures. Not really the law as I would choose to have it, but the Ninth Circuit has spoken.

Thanks to Jim.


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posted by Ace at 05:32 PM

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