The article below talks about how gangs use social media to not only boast about criminal activity but also to plan and carry it out.
Pantagraph.com: Watching the Web: Cops Use Social Media to Track Gangs
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has upheld the conviction of a criminal defendant who threatened the life of several federal judges on a blog that he maintained (U.S. v. Turner). Here is brief summary of the case.
On June 2, 2009, Harold Turner published a blog post declaring that three Seventh Circuit judges deserved to die for their recent decision that the Second Amendment did not apply to the states:
If they are allowed to get away with this by surviving, other Judges will act the same way.
These Judges deserve to be made such an example of as to send a message to the entire judiciary: Obey the Constitution or die.
Turner’s lengthy commentary declared that the blood of these three judges would “replenish the tree of liberty,” that the judges “didn’t get the hint” sent by a gunman who had murdered the family of another federal judge in Chicago, that they had not “faced REAL free men willing to walk up to them and kill them for their defiance and disobedience,” that their ruling was “so sleazy and cunning as to deserve the ultimate response,” and that the judges “deserve to be killed.” The next morning Turner posted photographs, work addresses, and room numbers for each of the three judges, along with a map indicating the location of the courthouse in which they worked, and a photograph of the building modified to point out “Anti-truck bomb barriers.”
A jury convicted Turner of threatening to assault or murder Judges Frank Easterbrook, William Bauer, and Richard Posner with the intent to impede, intimidate, or interfere with them in the performance of their duties or to retaliate against them on account of their performance of official duties. This appeal presents several issues for our review, including whether the jury’s verdict was supported by sufficient evidence of a true threat of violence. We hold that the evidence was sufficient, that the jury was properly instructed regarding a “true threat,” and that Turner was not prejudiced by any error. We affirm.
One interesting aspect of the case is the dissent which would have overturned the conviction. The dissent saw the criminal defendant’s actions more as advocacy rather than as a true threat. One major tipping point for the dissent is that the criminal defendant made his comments via a blog post rather than through an email or phone call directly to the judges. According to the dissent:
…I would hold that Turner’s communications were advocacy of the use of force and not a threat. It is clear that Turner wished for the deaths of Judges Easterbrook, Posner, and Bauer. [Majority Op. at 4–5.] But I read his statements, made in the passive voice, [see id. at 22], as an exhortation toward “free men willing to walk up to them and kill them” and not as a warning of planned violence directed toward the intended victims, [id. at 5.] This reading is furthered by the fact that Turner’s words were posted on a blog on a publicly accessible website, [id. at 4, 8], and had the trappings of political discourse, invoking Thomas Jefferson’s famous quotation that “[t]he tree of liberty must be replenished from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots,” [id. at 5.] Although vituperative, there is no doubt that this was public political discourse. His speech might be subject to a different interpretation if, for example, the statements were sent to the Judges in a letter or email. See Malik, 16 F.3d at 50. However, Turner’s public statements of political disagreement are different from a threat.
As some may recall in the second week of April in 2009, a New England medical student (Philip Markoff) reached out to several women who advertised personal services on Craigslist. After making initial phone contact with these women, Markoff would make an appointment to meet them in person. Upon arriving at their respective hotel rooms, Markoff would rob the women. He killed one of the women after she put up a struggle.
Markoff was ultimately apprehended by high-tech police work. The police were able to link Markoff to the hotel room of the woman whom he killed by investigating cell towers, Craigslist accounts and Internet protocol addresses. Markoff was never tried for his crimes because he took his own life while in police custody. Markoff’s week long crime spree garnered so much public interest that it was later dramatized in a made-for TV movie, The Craigslist Killer.
This ABA Journal article discusses in-depth how the police used technology to capture Markoff.
Social media’s impact on the law is finally starting to permeate law schools. Here is a list of schools that offer courses specifically on social media. Other schools incorporate social media into courses like Communications Law, Computer Law, Cybercrimes, Cyberlaw, Internet Law, Media Law, etc. In the future, I expect this list to grow.
1. University of Dayton
Social Media and Criminal Law
Social Media Law
3. Texas Wesleyan
Social Media and the Law
4. University of New Hampshire
Social Media and the Law
5. Nova Southeastern University
Social Media and the Law
6. University of Texas
Law and Social Media
In Cleveland an assistant prosecutor was fired for pretending to be someone else on Facebook. The assistant prosecutor claims that he did nothing wrong. According to him, “Law enforcement, including prosecutors, have long engaged in the practice of using a ruse to obtain the truth.” The prosecutor’s boss saw it differently. The County Prosecutor found the assistant prosecutor’s behavior unethical and added that “[b]y creating false evidence, lying to witnesses as well as another prosecutor, Aaron Brockler has damaged the prosecution’s chances in a murder case where a totally innocent man was killed at his work.”
The ruse involved the assistant prosecutor creating a fake Facebook profile in which he pretended to be the ex-girlfriend of the defendant. Using this bogus Facebook profile, the prosecutor “friended” and then initiated a series of chats with the defendant’s two female alibi witnesses. During these conversations, the bogus ex-girlfriend informed the two women that she had recently given birth to the defendant’s child. The bogus ex-girlfriend also attempted to get the witnesses to change or recant their testimony.
Recently, Illinois increased the applicable penalties for assaults orchestrated by social media. Interestingly, Illinois is not alone in enacting legislation to target social media based criminal activity, e.g., other jurisdictions have passed or are considering passing laws addressing criminal flash mobs.
Under the new law, which goes into effect immediately, judges have discretion to impose a more severe sentence on anyone who uses electronic media to organize a group of people to commit violent crimes.
Previously, those who were convicted of using electronic communication to organize violent mob action could face a prison sentence of between one and three years. The new law changes the potential prison time to between three and six years.
The new legislation only targets people who organize the criminal activities, though participants may be subjected to other penalties.
Critics of the bill have argued that it would drive up prison costs and have little effect on violence.
Chicago Tribune: Bill allows tougher penalties in social media based mob attacks
Effective July 1st the state of Indiana will have a new law that makes it illegal to post a threat on social media. According to proponents of the new law, it is a gap filler and will cover situations where individuals go to social media sites and post about “shooting up or damaging certain places.” This law also covers situations where threats, posted on social media, are directed towards specific individuals.
Bsudailynews.com: The Daily: Social media threats spark new law