Federal appeals court rejects free speech claim in cyberstalking case

The 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals limited the reach of federal cyberstalking law on actions “with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person.” The action must also put a victim in reasonable fear of death or injury. The court found that the law was not overbroad in restricting speech in the case U.S. v. Yung. The court reasoned that the cyberstalking law ran afoul of the First Amendment in limiting speech that could cause emotional distress and that in general the law posed a problem in that it “penalizes speech even when a listener’s distress is unexpected or idiosyncratic.” The court stated, “The First Amendment protects lots of speech that is substantially emotionally distressing. Protesters may picket a marine’s funeral with signs like ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers,’ ‘God Hates Fags,’ and ‘You’re Going to Hell.’ Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. 443, 448(2011).” (Reason, June 13, 2022, by Eugene Vollokh)

Even so the court reaffirmed Yung’s conviction based on intent to harass. Young’s speech was unprotected since it constituted true threats. (Justia, June 13, 2022)

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