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back to article Judge dismisses charges against accused Twitter stalker

A federal judge has dismissed a criminal case against a man charged with stalking a religious leader on Twitter on the grounds that the more than 8,000 messages he posted, some predicting her violent death, were protected by the US constitution. Thursday's ruling by US District Judge Roger W. Titus of Maryland was among the …

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Since when is death threats just offensive ? So if I sent 8000 harassing messages , some with death threats that's ok as long as it's a public official ?

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Tweet: "Cantor? He demeans the Senate. Swear to god, if I ever see that son of a bitch I'll kill him."

There's your death threat! Or is this a death threat too? Gee, who knows - better not even joke about it. Or use it as an analogy. If you're el Reg, it'll be a lot easier just to not let anything suspect through.

That's called a 'chilling effect', and it's why free speech needs to be much, much broader than you might think, and will probably offend you in your particular pet peeve areas.

It's easy to be righteously outraged at something if you don't consider the consequences. In this case, thankfully, the court appears to have done so.

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"public figure", not "public official". There's a difference.

Somebody on the fringes gets no traction. _Certain_ somebodies have quite a lot of pull, more 'gravity'.

If you took the same titterings and substituted a public official's name, I'm sure you wouldn't get 80 out much less 8000 before the badges barge in. Pick a parcel of politicians and 'predict' their gruesome deaths. I *really* don't think it'd take many mutterings to 'warrant' unexpected visitors.

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Stop

RTFA

Nowhere does it say "death threats". It says he "predicted her violent death" - which any psychic could do if a client pissed them off. If I say "next year you will die in a car crash", it's a horrible thing to say to but DOES NOT constitute a death threat. A death threat would be "I'm going to ram my car into you and kill you," which would - and should - be actionable.

And fortunately, this sensible judge clearly understands the difference.

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Try again...

The article says "predicting her violent death," which, depending on the language involved might not be "threatening" anything. It's a fine line, I'll admit, but if the defendant stayed on the correct side, then the tweets do not come into an area where the State has a compelling interest in restricting the speech. In which case, the case ought be dismissed and the defendant, now a victim of spurious prosecution should (but probably won't) be compensated for time lost and costs incurred in defense.

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Angel

Jesus.

I've been publicly threatened with death more than once by Christians with mega-phones on busy street corners. But Jesus Christ, there's nothing wrong with a bit of banter and heckling. No need to get your virgin knickers in a twist.

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Yes, but....

"I've been publicly threatened with death more than once by Christians with mega-phones on busy street corners"

Yes, but if they followed you around day after day, threatening you (or even making statements that could be interpreted as threats), then your reaction might be a little different.

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Anonymous Coward

True, but...

It's only Twitter. It can be turned off.

Anyone who uploads a (science) video on Youtube is subject to an enormous amount of hate, rapture, death threats, degradation, etc in the comments section. But people shouldn't be charged for trolling. If charges are brought on Twitter, then they'll be brought everywhere else.

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Anonymous Coward

Since This Was America

I guess that since this happened in the land of the free (to use guns for any purpose) we can be pleased that the death threats progressed only to the point of threats?

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Anonymous Coward

Stalking is NOT free speech

Maybe the stalker was arrested on the wrong charges but they most definitely should be prosecuted and imprisoned for stalking and death threats.

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Anonymous Coward

yes, but can she get a restraining order on the stalker so he can never use physical or digital means to contact her directly or indirectly?

He may post whatever he likes "elsewhere", but he can no longer send tweets to her. You can't tell me that she must tolerate his tweets -that are directly sent to her- because of the first amendment!

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Anonymous Coward

She must tolerate his tweets -that are directly sent to her- because of the first amendment.

Furthermore, while I have not used twitter (yes, really - nor facebook) I presume there's a way to block certain other users, rather than simply sitting there and reading them all.

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Um thats not true. The first amends does not give you the right to be heard. She did block him and he changed screen names. In the US you can get a no contact order for some he keeps on trying to communicate with you have you made it clear that you want nothing to do with them. Oh and the first amendment has nothing to do with non government intendeds.

"She must tolerate his tweets -that are directly sent to her- because of the first amendment." If that is true the web sites would not be able to sensor web sites

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FAIL

Wrong Charges

The judge was right to dismiss the charges as the guy was not stalking. Now if the guy had gone to A.Z.'s residence or work and had left messages there, or even taken and posted pictures from there, then yes, that would be stalking. Also, the person (according to the article) never made any actual death threats. He "predicted" A.Z. would die a violent death, but does not seem to have actually threatened it himself. The problem in this case is that the guy was charged with the wrong crime. Instead of being charged with stalking, he should have been charged with harassment.

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religious figure identified by initials A.Z

> Thursday's ruling .. dismissed criminal charges against William Lawrence Cassidy, who used multiple Twitter accounts to sharply criticize a religious figure identified only by the initials A.Z.

Would that be Buddhist leader Alyce Zeoli?

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/27/technology/man-accused-of-stalking-via-twitter-claims-free-speech.html

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She would block him and then he would sign up under another name

They certainly rattled Alyce Zeoli, a Buddhist leader based in Maryland. Using an ever-changing series of pseudonyms, the authorities say, Mr. Cassidy published thousands of Twitter posts about Ms. Zeoli. Some were weird horror-movie descriptions of what would befall her; others were more along these lines: “Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day.”

According to the F.B.I. and Ms. Zeoli’s lawyer, Mr. Cassidy also claimed to be a reincarnated Buddhist when he joined Ms. Zeoli’s organization, Kunzang Palyul Choling, in 2007. He signed up using a false name and claimed to have had lung cancer, they said. Ms. Zeoli’s organization cared for him and, briefly, even appointed him to its executive team. The relationship soured after they came to doubt his reincarnation credentials and found that his claims of cancer were false. Mr. Cassidy left. Then came the relentless tweets, they said.

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I just love it

"The relationship soured after they came to doubt his reincarnation credentials and found that his claims of cancer were false."

This has made my Friday - actually already a good and interesting time. Could someone possibly enlighten me on exactly how reincarnation credentials are checked - a spiritual alternative to Experien?

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Reincarnation credentials

I expect they're vetted by a reliable team of experts who knew the person in a former life.

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Alien

>The Buddhist world was surprised to learn in 1987 that an American woman named Alyce Zeoli (born in Brooklyn in 1949) had been formally recognized as a tulku, or intentional reincarnation. <

http://www.tara.org/jetsunma-ahkon-lhamo/biography/

Seems like he was pissed at her because they refuted his assertion that he was also an intentional reincarnation (as well as 'not' having cancer when he claimed he did).

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Lets clear some thing up. We are not talking about some who just mad at her we are talking about a stalker. Stalkers tend to kill the person the obsess over. To .me there is a very real difference between some who is just mad at you and some who is stalking describing ways in which you can die. Then saying I wish you would kill your self.

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"Stalkers tend to kill the person the obsess over."

Do they really? I'd like to see a citation for that claim. 'Cos here: Justin Bieber probably has at least one or two hundred stalkers out there somewhere. If more than 50% Odds are he should be dead a few dozen times over now.

But since he - and most every other celebrity / politician / musician out there - has stubbornly refused to be murdered, despite their dozens or hundreds of stalkers each, I am forced to come to the conclusion that only a vanishingly small number of stalkers actually take action.

Wait, did I just issue a death threat against Justin Bieber? It's so hard to tell...

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Sure now just send that to him 8000 time directly and keep on changing your screen name when he blocks you and thats a death threat. Ok and make sure you are stalking him too. I never said a random comment was a death threat I said when some is stalking you and refuses to except that you refuse to talk to them .

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FAIL

Without a doubt the guy is a looney. Damn stretch to consider this free speech that should be protected. Obsessive behaviour, multiple psedonyms, telling porkies. How is all this not "uttering threats" ?!? The following is a quote from this Canadian website about the Criminal Code of Canada (http://www.defencelaw.com/utter-threats.html):

"What the Crown must prove

To secure a conviction at trial, the Crown must prove that the person making the threat did so knowingly. That is, the prosecution must show that he was aware of the words used and the meaning they would convey. It also must show that he intended the threat to be taken seriously, that is, to intimidate or strike fear into the recipient. It is not necessary that the person making the threat intend to carry it out or be capable of doing so. The motive for making the threat is equally irrelevant.

In assessing whether the words constitute a threat, they must be considered objectively. The court must ask: In the context and circumstances in which the words were spoken or written, the manner in which they were used, and the person to whom they were directed would they convey a threat to a reasonable person?

A history of violence between the parties may support a finding that the words were intended as a threat. Whether or not the person making the threat has an apparent ability to carry it out when the words are spoken, his use of gestures or acts, whether the recipient of the words takes them seriously, and disparity in size between the speaker and the recipient of the threat may all be relevant to an assessment of the speaker's intent."

The Right to Free Speech shouldn't be a club that turns on the nuance of phrasing. IANAL, but in Canada I'd say he'd be convicted.

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Anonymous Coward

"The motive for making the threat is equally irrelevant."

"Oh, that President Obama is just so cute I could eat him right up!" == threat of murder followed by cannibalism; life without parole!

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@Mark

I thought he would of been convicted here in the US. You never know what the judge might do.

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Fortunately, those with more than a marginal understanding of the applicable law (and of the auxiliary verb "have") considered this protected speech, and the presiding judge was one of them.

Plenty of commentators have already noted that a failure to dismiss would likely have a chilling effect, in part because it's far too easy to construe a "threat" from heated language. Mark Hewitt's comment is an excellent example. I don't see any threat in any of the quoted messages, and certainly there's a vast body of evidence that "obsessive behavior" and "multiple pseudonyms" are widespread phenomena online. If the authorities followed something like Hewitt's test (and in many cases they would, because the US judicial system is adversarial and so has a vested interest in aggressive prosecution), we'd see a flurry of cases like this built on the most dubious of situations.

The only way to protect freedom of expression is to protect offensive expression. Every exception is an invitation for those in power to shut down speech they dislike.

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