Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Objective test for true threats affirmed

US v. White:  White, leader of a neo-Nazi white supremacist group, received several convictions for threats to injure or intimidate others, and intimidating others to "influence, delay, or prevent the[ir] testimony." White filed a Rule 29 motion for acquittal, which the district court denied; both White and the government appealed aspects of White’s sentencing, in particular the district court’s application of a certain standard in imposing an enhancement for victims’ vulnerability. The Fourth Circuit affirmed White’s convictions, but vacated his sentence, remanding for re-sentencing, because the district court employed an incorrect standard in its analysis of enhancing a defendant’s sentence for the vulnerability of victims.

White argued that his communications were political speech protected by the First Amendment, and that there was no showing made of a specific, subjective intent to threaten, the test adopted by the Ninth Circuit after the Supreme Court’s decision in Virginia v. Black. The Fourth Circuit disagreed with White’s interpretation of the statute and affirmed the district court’s holding that the statute required a showing that the defendant specifically intended to "communicate a threat and not that the defendant specifically intended to threaten the victims," quoting from the Court’s earlier decision of precedent, United States v. Darby. The Fourth Circuit also held that Virginia v. Black was not contrary to its precedent in Darby, such that the Court had to re-examine precedent. The reasonable recipient test from Darby continues to define a true threat.

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