Florida’s Laws on Using Electronic Communication to Threaten Bodily Injury or Death
In Florida it is unlawful for a person to write another person through an electronic communication, like an e-mail, text message or Facebook post, a threat to kill or do bodily harm to them or their family. Under Florida General Statute 836.10 titled “Written threats to kill or to do bodily injury” the law simply states: “Any person who writes or composes and also sends or procures the sending of any letter, inscribed communication, or electronic communication, whether such letter or communication be signed or anonymous, to any person, containing a threat to kill or to do bodily injury to the person to whom such letter or communication is sent, or a threat to kill or do bodily injury to any member of the family of the person to whom such letter or communication is sent commits a felony of the second degree.”
A closer look at Florida’s electronic communication threat to kill or do bodily injury law, shows that it can be simply broken down into three elements. A person violates the electronic communication threat to kill or do bodily harm statute when they: (1) write or compose a threat to kill or do bodily injury; (2) sends or procure the sending of that communication to another person; and (3) the threat is to the recipient of the communication or a member of his family.
As a practicing criminal lawyer in Palm Beach County, FL the telephone rings weekly with questions as to whether or not someone can get into trouble for sending a threatening e-mail, text message or Facebook post to another. The answer is simply yes!
The caller will ultimately explain that they were only exercising their First Amendment Right of Free Speech. While I strongly agree with the free speech argument, I am constantly reminded of a case called Saidi v. State. Saidi dispels the First Amendment “free speech” argument being made by the inquiring caller and after the telephone conversation; the caller is shocked of how weak the facts were in Saidi.
The facts that gave rise to Saidi v. State began when Mr. Ahmad Saidi sent various letters and papers to William Roy, the attorney representing Saidi’s former wife in a contentious post-judgment family law proceeding, and to the Circuit Court of Seminole County, Florida. The letters sent from Ahmad Saidi were done so through electronic communication of facsimile. The threatening letters sent by Saidi to the recipient attorney and presiding Judge were “motions” to be heard in the contentious divorce proceeding.
The threatening communication filed as a motion by Saidi was entitled “Notice of Filing Warning and Threats to Kill and Motion Requesting Scheduling of an Urgent Hearing.” The document sent by Saidi, included the following language: “giving this notice threatening to kill both of the Former Wife and her Counsel.” Saidi further stated in his communication that “in order for him to execute this killing he is using his ONLY weapon that he has of his own and the weapon supplied to him by the contents of the pleadings that are filed by the Former Wife and ROY.”
The case of Saidi shows how broad the net can be casted to include speech that is threatening and punitive in the criminal justice system. Saidi actually filed the electronic threat as a court pleading. He was surely not trying to hide behind a computer in the speech he chose. Saidi argued because he filed the electronic correspondence as a court filing it was protected Free Speech.
The Appellate court disagreed with Saidi’s “free speech” argument and reminded all of us that “threatening communications fall outside the province of protected political speech as represented by First Amendment; a reasonable jury could conclude that the reasonable recipient of a threatening letter would not interpret it as being of a political nature, but rather as a true threat of violence, as a letter was not protected speech under the First Amendment and could be basis for prosecution under statute proscribing mailing threatening communications; letter never mentioned sender’s political views but did make direct or indirect threats of use of force or violence.” The words “threat to kill” contained in Saidi’s correspondence are enough to satisfy the prevailing Florida Statute section 836.10 and are not protected by the First Amendment Free Speech Clause.
The Appellate court went on in Saidi to reason that other forms of “speech” are also illegal and punishable in Florida like: Communications made with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm by telephone, or any form of written communication, which cause annoyance or alarm and served no purpose of legitimate communication, was not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad; statute did not infringe right to free speech, but rather, protected individual’s right to be left alone, and provided reasonable opportunity to know what actions were prohibited; relying on Yates v. Commonwealth Kentucky.
Further, see State v Ross, a Montana case holding that First Amendment free speech grounds do not protect speech threatening to “inflict physical harm” is rarely if ever protected. Lastly, even if Saidi placed the speech into a court filing in the form of a motion, it does not matter as it is still considered speech and not cleansed by the public filing. The Saidi court relying on a federal case called U.S. v. Bellrichard, 994 F. 2d 1318 (8th Cir. 1993) reasoned that because the speech was sent electronically and was a threat the “ person may not escape prosecution for uttering threatening language merely by combining the threatening language with issues of public concern”. See Bellrichard at pg. 1322.
Saidi testified at trial that the word “kill” used in his court correspondence was synonymous with the word “defeat”. Saidi was arguing that he did not have the “intent” to kill, but only defeat, as his first language is Arabic and the word kill and defeat are synonymous. The Appellate court however was not persuaded and did not answer this issue directly. But what the opinion seems to show is that the “intent” element of the crime is not the ability to carry out the threat or to do the threat. The intent element of the crime in fact is the “writing” or “composing” the threat. Therefore, one must take notice when writing text messages, e-mails, Facebook post, facsimiles and all other forms of electronic speech so that the language does not threaten death, injury, bodily harm or any other forms of physical harm because if it does the sender faces felony prosecution in the State of Florida.
If you or a loved one is facing criminal prosecution, indictment or investigation for a State or Federal computer crime in Florida, contact Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer Andrew D. Stine. Andrew D. Stine has been fighting and winning computer crimes for more than a decade and has the credentials to prove it. With thousands of cases under his belt, West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer, Andrew D Stine will fight for you! Appeals, State and Federal Trials, Pre-Arrest and investigations have all been handled and won single handedly by Andrew D. Stine. Do as thousands have done: Hire Stine or Do the Time.