CyberLaw: Internet Threat?

The criminal defendant was charged with making a threat by posting a communication on the Internet, Craig’s List, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 875(c). After the District Court overruled Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, Defendant plead guilty subject to the appeal of his Motion. The statement communicated by the Defendant, published on Craig’s List was as follows:

“i went home loaded in my truck and spend the past 3 hours looking for this douche with the expressed intent of crushing him in that little piece of shit under cover gray impala hooking up my tow chains and dragging his stupid ass down to creek hills and just drowning him in the falls. but alas i can’t fine that bastard anywhere ․ i really wish he would die, just like the rest of these stupid fucking asshole cops. so J.K.P. if you read this i hope you burn in hell. i only wish i could have been the one to send you there.”

The pertinent portion of the statute is as follows: “Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.” The Court of Appeals, 3rd Circuit, in the case of USA v. Stock, upheld the indictment and affirmed the conviction finding that the above statement could be found by a reasonable jury to be a threat of injury or harm, either in the present or future, which conduct was prohibited by statute.

As contemptible as Defendant’s communication was, did it seem to be the violent wish of someone enraged with a police officer and the police generally rather than a credible threat? Surely a public forum like the Internet lends itself to violent and hateful expression in many instances. But for 1st Amendment free speech purposes, there should be a difference between speech that is threatening versus that which is hateful. What do you think?