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Florida appeals court upholds ruling that posting threats on Facebook is a felony

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida appeals court ruled Monday that posting threats on one’s personal Facebook page can be prosecuted under state law.

In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel on the 1st District Court of Appeals found that threatening statements posted by Timothy Ryan O’Leary could be considered “sending” for the purposes of the law.

A Florida Statue specifies that sending communication to any person “containing a threat to kill or to do bodily injury to the person to whom such letter or communication is sent,” constitutes a second degree felony.

The appeals court upheld a Duval County circuit judge’s refusal to dismiss a case against O’Leary, who posted a Facebook rant threatening a relative and her same-sex partner in 2011.

In court documents describing the case, O’Leary had posted this Facebook status on his personal page, threatening the relative and her partner by name:

“F*CK my [relative] for choosin (sic) to be a lesbian and f*ck [the partner] cuz you’re an ugly ass bitch . . . if you ever talk to me like you got a set of nuts between your legs again . . . I’m gonna f*ck you up and bury your bitch ass. U wanna act like a man. I’ll tear the concrete up with your face and drag you back to your doorstep. U better watch how the f*ck you talk to people. You were born a woman and you better stay one.”

The relative addressed in the statement did not see the post on O’Leary’s Facebook profile, but found out about it indirectly through another family member.

O’Leary argued he couldn’t be charged because he did not “send” the threatening language to his relative, but the Duval County judge denied his request to dismiss the charges.

After the state dropped one of two counts, O’Leary pleaded no contest to the remaining count. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, followed by five years of probation. The probation requirement was later reduced to two years.

O’Leary appealed, and the appeals court sided with the trial judge.

In its ruling, the Appellate Court found that “by posting his threats” on his Facebook page, “it is reasonable to presume that (O’Leary) wished to communicate that information to all of his Facebook friends.”

The court added, “Had the appellant desired to put his thoughts into writing for his own personal contemplation, he could simply have recorded them in a private journal, diary or any other medium that is not accessible by other people. Thus, by the affirmative act of posting the threats on Facebook, even though it was on his own personal page, appellant ‘sent’ the threatening statements to all of his Facebook friends,” including the family member of the victim who saw the threat.

Legal analysts see this as a landmark ruling that will set precedent for future cases in the state.



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