Sure, we've all had our moments with the police. We've been pulled over for speeding, told to move along, or even arrested. While such incidents can make us angry, we usually don't act on that anger.
But one Philadelphia blogger acted differently. Joshua Scott Albert has been charged with solicitation to commit murder, making terroristic threats, and harassment for setting up Facebook pages that support the killers of Officer Moses Walker. Albert also called for the murder of the district attorney and the head of the police union, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
Facebook has already taken down the pages, and Albert defended his actions on his blog by pointing out there are other Facebook groups calling for the deaths of public figures like Karl Rove.
Is there a clear-cut line between online rants and real threats?
Let's start with solicitation. The crime of solicitation occurs when you request, encourage, or demand that someone else commit a crime and you intend for that crime to happen. For example, if you contact a hitman to kill someone, you would be guilty of solicitation, even if the actual death did not occur (if it did, you'd be on the hook for murder).
Criminal harassment, on the other hand, occurs when you intentionally target someone with behavior meant to alarm, annoy, torment, or terrorize. In general, the law requires the harassment to result in a credible threat to a person's safety.
The main question here is whether Albert had the intent for murder to occur. The secondary question is if his postings really had the possibility of causing the "intended" effects.
It seems from Albert's blog that his overheated rhetoric is just that -- extreme speech meant to gain attention, but not an actual call to action. However, the way that the posts and pages were written, it could be possible for a court to find that Albert crossed the line from speech protected by the First Amendment to unprotected threats.
To answer the question posed, there is no bright-line rule about what makes a rant a threat. So if you are a blogger or protester and your message borders on threats to someone's safety, you may want to consult with a Philadelphia criminal lawyer to see if you are at risk of facing the same consequences as Joshua Albert.
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- 3 Crimes For Threatening a Politician (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Criminal Law: Solicitation in Philadelphia (FindLaw's Philadelphia Criminal Law News)
- Francis Murphy Waives Preliminary Hearing In Solicitation Case (FindLaw's Philadelphia Criminal Law News)