Monday, December 17, 2007

True Threats Can Extort State University

US v. Bly: Bly was a long-time doctoral student at the University of Virginia. After he was dropped from the program, he began to write letters and Emails to the UVa administration claiming that he had been treated unfairly and that his work had been plagiarized.

In one letter, addressed to more than 40 people, Bly made a series of demands backed by threats of violence, referencing the ability to "end elements of long standing dispute with the twitch of my index finger." A cover sheet included practice targets from a shooting range and screaming all-caps text attesting to Bly's proficiency with high-powered rifles. Bly was charged under 18 USC 876(b) with attempting to extort UVa with threats of violence. Bly pleaded guilty to that offense, but only after the district court denied a motion to dismiss on grounds that the letter was First Amendment protected "hyperbolic" political speech and that UVa was a "person" that could be the target of an attempted extortion.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit followed the district court and affirmed Bly's conviction. First, the court concluded that the letter contained true threats that were not entitled to First Amendment protection. Second, the court concluded that UVa was a person that could be the target of extortion.

No comments: