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Supreme Court throws out conviction for Facebook threats

Top U.S. court rules in social media threat case CBS Radio News' Barry Bagnato joins CBSN with the details
Supreme Court tosses conviction in Facebook threat case 02:48

The Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man accused of making threats on Facebook.

In a seven-to-two ruling, the court declared it was not enough for prosecutors to show that the comments of Anthony Elonis would make a reasonable person feel threatened.

Rap lyrics prompt Supreme Court freedom of speech case 02:00

"The jury was instructed that the Government need prove only that a reasonable person would regard Elonis's communications as threats, and that was error," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. "Federal criminal liability generally does not turn solely on the results of an act without considering the defendant's mental state."

Elonis was prosecuted for making illegal threats after he posted Facebook rants in the form of rap lyrics about killing his estranged wife, harming law enforcement officials and shooting up a school.

Elonis claimed the government had no right to prosecute him if he didn't actually intend his comments to be threatening to others. But the Obama administration said that the test is whether the comments would strike fear in a reasonable person.

The case was the first major test of free speech rights on the Internet, but the justices issued a narrow ruling, declaring it "unnecessary to consider any First Amendment issues" in the case.

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