Florida Law Prohibiting Written Threats Extends to Facebook Posts

    May 20, 2013

    In a case of first impression, a Florida appellate court held that a Florida law prohibiting certain written threats can reach statements posted on Facebook, the Daily Business Review reports.

    Timothy Ryan O’Leary was charged with two counts of violating Florida Statute 836.10 for what he wrote on his personal page. Under the statute, a person who “writes or composes and also sends or procures the sending of any letter, inscribed communication, or electronic communication… containing a threat to kill or to do bodily injury to the person to whom such letter or communication is sent,” commits a second-degree felony. The same holds true if the threatening communication is sent to a family member of the person being threatened.

    O’Leary referred to one of his relatives and her partner by name in a Facebook post where he lambasted them for their sexual preference and then threatened to “tear the concrete up with your face and drag you back to your doorstep,” among other things. Neither he relative or her partner discovered the post on O’Leary’s page, but O’Leary’s cousin, who was Facebook friends with O’Leary, saw the threatening post and relayed the content of the post to the victims. The trial judge ruled that O’Leary could be convicted of violating the statute by virtue of his threatening Facebook post, even though the post was received only by the victim’s family member.

    On appeal, the appellate court confirmed that a person can violate Florida Statute 836.10 through Facebook activity. The panel of judges found it immaterial that O’Leary never asked anyone to view the post and never addressed it to anyone.  The court reasoned that by posting his threats directed to his family member and her partner on his Facebook page, it was reasonable to presume that O’Leary wished to communicate that information to all of his Facebook friends, including the victim’s family members with whom he was Facebook friends.

    The trial court sentenced O’Leary to 10 years imprisonment followed by two years of community control upon release. The maximum he could have received is 15 years.

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