By Scott Tibbs, July 23, 2013
Should an admittedly crude and offensive "joke" on Facebook with no actual intent to commit a violent crime send someone to jail for ten years? I would hope that the answer is "no" but that may well happen to a 19-year-old gamer in Texas. Justin Carter was discussing a video game online when someone else called him crazy. He said, sarcastically, that he was crazy and was planning to shoot up a school.
(For more, see here and here and here and here.)
I realize that we live in a post-Sandy Hook era and that we need to take remarks about gun rampages seriously. "Jokes" that would not have brought forth a criminal investigation fifteen or twenty years ago need to be looked at. Law enforcement was absolutely right to investigate Carter's offensive "joke" when they were tipped off about it to make sure he was not actually planning to maim or murder innocent people - especially children. But once it became clear that Carter was not seriously threatening to maim and murder, the charges of making a "terroristic threat" and the potential prison time should have been dropped.
Keeping Carter in jail, and threatening him with ten years behind bars is beyond silly at this point. It makes the criminal justice system look like it is populated entirely by hysterical drama queens. Carter has been attacked by other inmates in jail and is being kept in solitary confinement for his own safety - but solitary confinement is taking a toll on his mental health. That alone is more than enough punishment for his crude and offensive Facebook post, to say nothing of spending ten years in prison.
This serves as a reminder to all of us to think about what we say online, whether in a "private" conversation or in a public forum. Not because of threats that we may see criminal charges for our speech, but out of a basic respect for others and respect for civility. I certainly need to remember that lesson, more often than I would like to admit.