Courts consider distinction between hyperbole and real threat

This week two courts will hear arguments on whether particular threats should be considered the protected speech of hyperbolic rhetoric or taken as real threats. -DB

First Amendment Law Prof Blog
November 24, 2009
By Kathleen Bergin

Upcoming trials test the boundary between ‘true threats’ and hyperbolic on-line speech

The trial of Hal Turner is scheduled to begin on December 1 in Brooklyn, NY. He’s the man accused of making threats on his website against three Seventh Circuit judges after they issued a decision to uphold Chicago’s ban on handguns. (prior post links to web transcript). reports that a federal judge has already ruled as a matter of law that Turner’s posts fall into the category of unprotected threats, leaving open the question of whether Turner harbored the requisite intent that is necessary to obtain a conviction. According to the report, Turner plans to establish a defense based on his work as an FBI informant, which he says taught him how to engage in hyperbolic rhetoric without breaking the law.

Meanwhile, two men from Massachusetts have been charged with making threats against a probation officer and a state trooper in a rap video they posted on You-Tube. The video, entitled “Watch 4 Me,” identifies both the trooper and probation officer by name, shows images of a woman with a gun pointed at her head, and the sound of gun shots in the background. A hearing is scheduled in that case for November 30.

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