United States v. Jeffries

Justia.com Opinion Summary: Tangled in a prolonged legal dispute over visitation rights to see his daughter, Jeffries wrote a

song, “Daughter’s Love,” which contains passages about relationships between fathers and daughters, but also includes complaints about his ex-wife, ranting gripes about lawyers and the legal system, and threats to kill the judge if he doesn’t “do the right thing” at an upcoming custody hearing. Jeffries created a video of himself performing the song on a guitar painted with an American flag and posted the music video on YouTube. He shared it with friends, family and the media. In the video, Jeffries says “This song’s for you, judge.” Agents charged Jeffries with violating a federal law that prohibits “transmit[ting] in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to . . . injure the person of another” 18 U.S.C. 875(c). A jury convicted Jeffries. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. All that the First Amendment requires in the context of a section 875(c) prosecution is that the threat be real; there was sufficient evidence to convict.



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RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION Pursuant to Sixth Circuit Rule 206 File Name: 12a0286p.06 UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT _________________ X UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, No. 11-5722 v. > , FRANKLIN DELANO JEFFRIES, II, Defendant-Appellant. N Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville. No. 3:10-cr-100-1âThomas W. Phillips, District Judge. Argued: July 17, 2012 Decided and Filed: August 27, 2012 Before: SUTTON and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges; DOWD, District Judge.* _________________ COUNSEL ARGUED: Jonathan Harwell, HARWELL & HARWELL, P.C., Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellant. Luke A. McLaurin, UNITED STATES ATTORNEYâS OFFICE, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Jonathan Harwell, Ralph E. Harwell, HARWELL & HARWELL, P.C., Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellant. Luke A. McLaurin, Kelly A. Norris, UNITED STATES ATTORNEYâS OFFICE, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellee. SUTTON, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which GRIFFIN, J., and DOWD, D. J., joined. SUTTON, J. (pp. 16â20), also delivered a separate dubitante opinion. * The Honorable David D. Dowd, Jr., Senior United States District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio, sitting by designation. 1 No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 2 _________________ OPINION _________________ SUTTON, Circuit Judge. Tangled in a prolonged legal dispute over visitation rights to see his daughter, Franklin Delano Jeffries II tried something new. He wrote a song. The title, âDaughterâs Love,â gives away half of the lyrics. The song contains sweet passages about relationships between fathers and daughters and the importance of spending time together. The rest boils into an assortment of the banal (complaints about his ex-wife), the ranting (gripes about lawyers and the legal system) and the menacing (threats to kill the judge if he doesnât âdo the right thingâ at an upcoming custody hearing). Jeffries set the words to music and created a video of himself performing the song on a guitar painted with an American flag on it. The style is part country, part rap, sometimes on key, and surely therapeutic. Had Jeffries left it at that, there would be nothing more to say. But he did not. He posted the music video on YouTube and shared it with friends, family and a few others. The timing left something to be desired. Six months earlier, the judge assigned to his custody case, Knox County Chancellor Michael Moyers, had granted Jeffriesâ petition for unsupervised visits. For reasons the record does not fully disclose, the judge set a hearing to re-evaluate Jeffriesâ visitation rights. Five days before the scheduled hearing, Jeffries uploaded the video. In the video, Jeffries sings of his upcoming visitation hearing and directs his words to Chancellor Moyers, saying, âThis songâs for you, judge.â Here are the lyrics of the song in full, a few of which Jeffries speaks rather than sings: Iâve had enough of this abuse from you. It has been goinâ on for 13 years. I have been to war and killed a man. I donât care if I go to jail for 2,000 years. âCause this is my daughter weâre talkinâ about, And when I come to court this better be the last time. Iâm not kidding at all, Iâm making this video public. No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 3 âCause if I have to kill a judge or a lawyer or a woman I donât care. âCause this is my daughter weâre talking about. Iâm getting tired of abuse and the parent alienation. You know its abuse. I love you; daughters are the beautiful things in my life. It keeps me going and keeps me alive everyday. Take my child and Iâll take your life. Iâm not kidding, judge, you better listen to me. I killed a man downrange in war. I have nothing against you, but Iâm tellinâ you this better be the last court date. Because Iâm gettinâ tired of missinâ out on my daughterâs love. (And thatâs the name of the song by the way âDaughterâs Love.â) And Iâm getting tired of you sickos Thinking itâs the right thing for the children. You think itâs the best interest of the child, But look at my daughter from her motherâs abuse. Sheâs mentally and physically abused her, And Iâm getting tired of this bull. So I promise you, judge, I will kill a man. This time better be the last time I end up in court âCause, damn, this world is getting tired. When you donât have your daughter to love on or have a big hug âCause sheâs so mentally abused and psychologically gone. She canât even hold her own dad Because her mom has abused [her] by parent alienation [ ]. And this s___ needs to stop because youâre gonna lose your job. And I guarantee you, if you donât stop, Iâll kill you. âCause I am gonna make a point either way you look at it somebodyâs gotta pay, And Iâm telling you right now live on the Internet. So put me in jail and make a big scene. Everybody else needs to know the truth. âCause this s___âs been going on for 13 years and now my daughterâs screwed up âCause the judge and the lawyers need money. They donât really care about the best interest of the child. No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 4 So Iâm gonna f___ somebody up, and Iâm going back to war in my head. So July the 14th is the last time Iâm goinâ to court. Believe that. Believe that, or Iâll come after you after court. Believe that. I love my daughter. Nobodyâs going take her away from me. âCause I got four years left to make her into an adult. I got four years left until sheâs eighteen. So stop this s___ because Iâm getting tired of you, And I donât care if everybody sees this Internet site Because it is the truth and itâs war. Stop abusing the children and let âem see their dads, âCause I love you, Allison. I really do love you. I want to hold you and hug you, and I want the abuse to stop. Thatâs why I started Traumatized Foundation.org. Traumatized Foundation.org. Because of children being left behind, being abused by judges, the courts. Theyâre being abused by lawyers. The best interest ainât of the child anymore. The judges and the lawyers are abusing âem. Letâs get them out of office. Vote âem out of office. If fathers donât have rights or women donât have their rights or equal visitation, Get their ass out of office. âCause you donât deserve to be a judge and you donât deserve to live. You donât deserve to live in my book. And youâre gonna get some crazy guy like me after your ass. And I hope I encourage other dads to go out there and put bombs in their goddamn cars. Blow âem up. Because itâs children weâre, children weâre talkinâ about. I care about her. And Iâm willing to go to prison, But somebodyâs gonna listen to me, Because this is a new war. This ainât Iraq or Afghanistan. This is goddamn America. This is my goddamn daughter. There, I cussed. Donât tell me I canât f___inâ cuss. No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 5 Stupid f___inâ [Guitar crashes over in the background] BOOM! There went your f___inâ car. I can shoot you. I can kill you. I can f___ you. Be my friend. Do something right. Serve my daughter. Yeah, look at that, thatâs the evil. You better keep me on Godâs side. Do the right thing July 14th. R.103-7 (emphases added). Jeffries posted a link to the video on his Facebook wall and sent links to twentynine Facebook users, including Tennessee State Representative Stacey Campfield, WBIR Channel 10 in Knoxville, and DADS of Tennessee, Inc., an organization devoted to empowering divorced fathers as equal partners in parenting. Twenty-five hours later, Jeffries removed the video from YouTube and his Facebook page. That was too late. By then, the sister of Jeffriesâ ex-wife had seen the link on Jeffriesâ wall and told the judge about it. Law enforcement got wind of the video, and the italicized words caught their attention. Federal prosecutors charged Jeffries with violating a federal law that prohibits âtransmit[ting] in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to . . . injure the person of anotherâânamely Chancellor Moyers. 18 U.S.C. § 875(c). A jury convicted Jeffries. Elements of § 875(c). The heart of Jeffriesâ appeal turns on a jury instruction, which turns on the proper elements of a § 875(c) charge. The parties agree that Jeffries could be convicted only if his threat was objectively real, only if a reasonable person would have perceived Jeffriesâ words and conduct as a true threat to Chancellor Moyers. The question is whether the court, as Jeffries claims, also should have instructed the jury that it could convict Jeffries only if he subjectively meant to threaten the judge. Here is what the court instructed the jury to do: In evaluating whether a statement is a true threat, you should consider whether in light of the context a reasonable person would believe that the statement was made as a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 6 injury on Chancellor Moyers and whether the communication was done to effect some change or achieve some goal through intimidation. * * * The communication must be viewed from an objective or reasonable person perspective. Accordingly, any statements about how Chancellor Moyers perceived or felt about the communication are irrelevant. In fact, it is not relevant that Chancellor Moyers even viewed the communication. The defendantâs subjective intent in making the communication is also irrelevant. Unlike most criminal statutes, the government does not have to prove defendantâs subjective intent. Specifically, the government does not have to prove that defendant subjectively intended for Chancellor Moyers to understand the communication as a threat, nor does the government have to prove that the defendant intended to carry out the threat. R.121 at 259â61. Here is what Jeffries asked the court to say in the jury instructions: In determining whether a communication constitutes a âtrue threat,â you must determine the defendantâs subjective purpose in making the communication. If the defendant did not seriously intend to inflict bodily harm, or did not make the communication with the subjective intent to effect some change or achieve some goal through intimidation, then it is not a âtrue threat.â R.87 at 6. Based on existing precedent, the court correctly rejected Jeffriesâ proposed instruction. The language of the statute prohibits âanyâ interstate âcommunicationâ that âcontain[s] any threat to . . . injure the person of another.â 18 U.S.C. § 875(c). In proscribing interstate âcommunication[s]â of this sort, § 875(c) punishes speech. That is something courts must keep âin mindâ in construing the statute, Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 707 (1969) (per curiam), but it is not something that insulates Jeffriesâ words from criminalization. Words often are the sole means of committing crimeâthink bribery, perjury, blackmail, fraud. Yet the First Amendment does not disable governments from punishing these language-based crimes, United States v. Varani, 435 F.2d 758, 762 (6th Cir. 1970), many of which pre-dated the First Amendment. No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 7 All that the First Amendment requires in the context of a § 875(c) prosecution is that the threat be realâa âtrue threat.â Watts, 394 at 708. Once that has been shown, once the government shows that a reasonable person would perceive the threat as real, any concern about the risk of unduly chilling protected speech has been answered. For if an individual makes a true threat to another, the government has the right, if not the duty, to âprotect[] individuals from the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders, and from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur,â all of which places the menacing words and symbols âoutside the First Amendment.â R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 388 (1992); cf. Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942); see also United States v. White, 670 F.3d 498, 507 (4th Cir. 2012). A § 875(c) prosecution, then, generally requires the government to establish that the defendant (1) made a knowing communication in interstate commerce that (2) a reasonable observer would construe as a true threat to another. Once the government makes this showing, we have held it matters not what the defendant meant by the communication, as opposed to how a reasonable observer would construe it. In United States v. DeAndino, we held that § 875(c) is a general-intent crime that does not require proof of âa specific intent to threaten based on the defendantâs subjective purpose.â 958 F.2d 146, 149 (6th Cir. 1992). At issue there was an indictment charging a defendant with âwillfully transmitt[ing] a communication containing a threatâ to âblow [the victimâs] brains out.â Id. at 147. The district court dismissed the indictment on the ground that a defendant could be convicted only if she âwillfully threatened or intended to threaten.â Id. We reversed, explaining that nothing in the statutory text indicated âa heightened mental element such as specific intent.â Id. at 148. United States v. Alkhabaz, 104 F.3d 1492 (6th Cir. 1997), is of a piece. At issue was an indictment charging Alkhabaz with sending a co-conspirator emails âexpress[ing] a sexual interest in violence against women and girls.â Id. at 1493. We upheld a dismissal of the indictment, concluding that to come within § 875(c) a threat must be communicated with intent (defined objectively) to intimidate. Id. at 1493, 1495. There, too, we re-affirmed that the statute does ânot express[] a subjective standard.â Id. at No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 8 1496. To convict under § 875(c), a jury need conclude only that âa reasonable person (1) would take the statement as a serious expression of an intention to inflict bodily harm (the mens rea), and (2) would perceive such expression as being communicated to effect some change or achieve some goal through intimidation (the actus reus).â Id. at 1495. In each case, the defendantâs subjective intent had nothing to do with it. We do not stand alone. Several circuits have expressly rejected an additional subjective requirement in construing this and related threat prohibitions. United States v. Whiffen, 121 F.3d 18, 21 (1st Cir. 1997); United States v. Francis, 164 F.3d 120, 123 (2nd Cir. 1999); United States v. Himelwright, 42 F.3d 777, 782 (3d Cir. 1994); United States v. Darby, 37 F.3d 1059, 1067 (4th Cir. 1994); United States v. Myers, 104 F.3d 76, 80â81 (5th Cir. 1997); United States v. Schneider, 910 F.2d 1569, 1570 (7th Cir. 1990). All of the others, with one exception (more on that later), have effectively reached the same conclusion by laying out a test that asks only whether a reasonable observer would perceive the threat as real. See United States v. Mabie, 663 F.3d 322, 332 (8th Cir. 2011); United States v. Welch, 745 F.2d 614, 619 (10th Cir. 1984); United States v. Callahan, 702 F.2d 964, 965 (11th Cir. 1983) (per curiam); Metz v. Depât of Treasury, 780 F.2d 1001, 1002 (Fed. Cir. 1986). But see United States v. Twine, 853 F.2d 676, 681 (9th Cir. 1988) (holding that conviction under § 875 ârequire[s] a showing of a subjective, specific intent to threatenâ). That would be the end of it but for one thing: Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003). As Jeffries reads the decision, it invalidates all communicative-threat laws under the First Amendment unless they contain a subjective-threat element. The argument is not frivolous, as one court (the Ninth) has accepted it. But the position reads too much into Black. At issue in Black was a state-law prohibition on cross burning, which forbade cross burning with âan intent to intimidate a person or group of persons.â Id. at 347. Of critical import, the statute âtreat[ed] any cross burning as prima facie evidence of intent to intimidate.â Id. at 347â48. The Court upheld the statuteâs prohibition on cross burning but struck down the prima facie evidence provision as overbroad because âa No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 9 burning cross is not always intended to intimidate.â Id. at 365. A cross burning used in a movie or at a political rally, the Court explained, would be protected speech and could not be used as prima facie evidence of criminal intimidation. Id. at 366. Black does not work the sea change that Jeffries proposes. The case merely appliesâit does not innovateâthe principle that â[w]hat is a threat must be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech.â Watts, 394 U.S. at 707. It says nothing about imposing a subjective standard on other threat-prohibiting statutes, and indeed had no occasion to do so: the Virginia law itself required subjective âintent.â The problem in Black thus did not turn on subjective versus objective standards for construing threats. It turned on overbreadthâthat the statute lacked any standard at all. The prima facie evidence provision failed to distinguish true threats from constitutionally protected speech because it âignore[d] all of the contextual factors that are necessary to decide whether a particular cross burning is intended to intimidate,â and allowed convictions âbased solely on the fact of cross burning itself.â Id. at 365, 367. No such problem exists here. The reasonable-person standard winnows out protected speech because, instead of ignoring context, it forces jurors to examine the circumstances in which a statement is made: A juror cannot permissibly ignore contextual cues in deciding whether a âreasonable personâ would perceive the charged conduct âas a serious expression of an intention to inflict bodily harm.â Alkhabaz, 104 F.3d at 1495. Unlike Virginiaâs cross-burning statute, which did ânot distinguish between a cross burning at a public rally or a cross burning on a neighborâs lawn,â Black, 538 U.S. at 366, the reasonable-person standard accounts for such distinctions. A reasonable listener understands that a gangster growling âIâd like to sew your mouth shutâ to a recalcitrant debtor carries a different connotation from the impression left when a candidate uses those same words during a political debate. And a reasonable listener knows that the words âIâll tear your head offâ mean something different when uttered by a professional football player from when uttered by a serial killer. The objective standard also complements the explanation for excluding threats of violence from First Amendment protection in the first place. Much like their cousins No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 10 libel, obscenity, and fighting words, true threats âby their very utterance inflict injuryâ on the recipient. Chaplinsky, 315 U.S. at 572. While the First Amendment generally permits individuals to say what they wish, it allows government to âprotect[] individualsâ from the effects of some wordsââfrom the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders, and from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur.â R.A.V., 505 U.S. at 377, 388; Black, 538 U.S. at 344. What is excluded from First Amendment protectionâthreats rooted in their effect on the listenerâworks well with a test that focuses not on the intent of the speaker but on the effect on a reasonable listener of the speech. Jeffries maintains that two statements in Black nonetheless demand a subjective inquiry as well: ââTrue threatsâ encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence,â Black, 538 U.S. at 359; and intimidation âis a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death,â id. at 360. The first statement shows only that a defendant âmeans to communicateâ when she knowingly says the words. See White, 670 F.3d at 509 (concluding that âmeans to communicateâ in Black refers to the act of communicating, not the intent to threaten); see also United States v. Kimes, 246 F.3d 800, 806â07 (6th Cir. 2001) ( â[A] general intent crime requires the knowing commission of an act that the law makes a crime.â). The second statement shows that intimidation is one âtype of true threat,â a reality that does little to inform § 875(c), which prohibits all types of threats to injure a person. Most of the other appellate courts to consider the issue have agreed that Black by itself does not provide a basis for overruling the objective standard. See White, 670 F.3d at 508â11 (4th Cir. 2012); Mabie, 663 F.3d at 332 (8th Cir. 2011); United States v. Wolff, 370 F. Appâx 888, 892 (10th Cir. 2010) (asking only âwhether a reasonable person would find that a threat existedâ). One circuit declined to resolve the issue but said in dicta âthat an entirely objective definition is no longer tenable.â United States v. Parr, 545 F.3d 491, 500 (7th Cir. 2008). The other, largely consistent with its prior No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 11 precedents, holds that Blackâs âmeans to communicateâ language adds a subjective gloss that âmust be read into all threat statutes that criminalize pure speech.â United States v. Bagdasarian, 652 F.3d 1113, 1117 (9th Cir. 2011). Whether Bagdasarian represents the best original reading of the statute is one thing; but the idea that Black, a case about a statute that makes cross burning prima facie evidence of intent to intimidate, requires a change to a circuitâs precedent concerning threats is another. As we see it, Black cannot be read so broadly, requiring us to stand by our decisions in DeAndino and Alkhabaz. Sufficiency of the evidence. Jeffries separately argues that, even if the trial court correctly instructed the jury, there was insufficient evidence to convict him. The question is whether, âafter viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.â Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). The government met this modest standard. The key evidence is the video. In it, Jeffries repeatedly says he will kill Chancellor Moyers if things do not go his way in the upcoming custody/visitation hearing. The threats are many, and a jury reasonably could take them as real: âWhen I come to court this better be the last timeâ; âTake my child and Iâll take your lifeâ; âI killed a man downrange in war. I have nothing against you, but Iâm tellinâ you this better be the last court dateâ; âSo I promise you, judge, I will kill a manâ; âAnd I guarantee you, if you donât stop, Iâll kill youâ; âSo Iâm gonna f___ somebody up, and Iâm going back to war in my head. So July the 14th is the last time Iâm goinâ to court. Believe that. Believe that, or Iâll come after you after courtâ; âCause you donât deserve to be a judge and you donât deserve to live. You donât deserve to live in my bookâ; No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 12 âAnd I hope I encourage other dads to go out there and put bombs in their goddamn cars. Blow âem upâ; âThere went your f___inâ car. I can shoot you. I can kill you.â R.103-7. The threats had an objective: getting the judge to âdo the right thing July 14th.â Id. And through all of the threats, his words (I am ânot kiddingâ) and his appearance (plenty of glares and no hints of a smile) left the distinct impression that the threats were real. He urged others to bomb judgesâ cars, and claimed he was willing to go to prison if necessary. Nor was he shy about his distribution of the video. He posted the video publicly, sent it to a television station and state representative, and urged others to âtake it to the judge.â R.103-5. On this record, a rational juror could conclude that a reasonable person would take the video as âa serious expression of an intention to inflict bodily harm . . . communicated to effect some change or achieve some goal.â Alkhabaz, 104 F.3d at 1495. No doubt, it is unusual or at least a sign of the times that the vehicle for this threat was a music video. Best we can tell, this is the first reported case of a successful § 875(c) prosecution arising from a song or video. One answer to the point is that the statute covers âany threat,â making no distinction between threats delivered orally (in person, by phone) or in writing (letters, emails, faxes), by video or by song, in oldfashioned ways or in the most up-to-date. Nor would this be the first time that an old flask was filled with new wineâthat an old statute was applied to a technology nowhere to be seen when the law was enacted. See OfficeMax, Inc. v. United States, 428 F.3d 583, 586 (6th Cir. 2005). Another answer to the point is that the method of delivering a threat illuminates context, and a song, a poem, a comedy routine or a music video is the kind of context that may undermine the notion that the threat was real. But one cannot duck § 875(c) merely by delivering the threat in verse or by dressing it up with political (and protected) attacks on the legal system. Sure, âone manâs vulgarity is anotherâs lyric,â Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 25 (1971), but we leave behind âmatters of taste and style,â id., when an individual makes a real threat to harm another. No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 13 Had Bob Dylan ended âHurricaneâ with a threat to kill the judge who oversaw Rubin Carterâs trial, the songâs other lyrics or the music that accompanied them would not by themselves have precluded a prosecution. In the same way, Jeffries cannot insulate his menacing speech from proscription by conveying it in a music video or for that matter by performing the song with a United States flag burning in the background. See Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989). Facebook messages. Jeffries argues that a dozen Facebook messages shown to the jury were irrelevant. Jeffriesâ twenty-eight posts on Facebook contained not just links to his YouTube video but also short messages to the recipients. Most of them encouraged his friends to show the video to Chancellor Moyers. Examples include: âGive this to Danny and the Judgeâ; âGive this to the Judge for courtâ; and âTell the judge.â R.103-5. A few messages sounded a different tune: âComedy for the courts,â and âHere is my public voice for the Judges in Knoxville Tennessee.â Id. While many of these messages were shown to the jury, none of them was covered by the indictment, which charged Jeffries with transmitting âa video of himself posted on the public internet websites YouTube and Facebook.â R.33. The Facebook messages were relevant because they gave context to the video. Whether a reasonable person would take the video âas a serious expression of an intention to inflict bodily harmâ depends on its setting. The messages became part of that backdrop when Jeffries included them together with the YouTube link in a single communication. Because Alkhabaz required the prosecution to prove that a reasonable person âwould perceive such expression as being communicated to effect some change or achieve some goal through intimidation,â 104 F.3d at 1495, moreover, the messages were relevant to that feature of the crime. At a minimum, the messages tend to show that a reasonable receiver would perceive the video as intended to reach the judge and influence his decision in Jeffriesâ upcoming hearing. Jeffries persists that the only relevant messages were those that reached or could have reached Chancellor Moyers or Amanda Long (the woman who viewed the video and brought it to Moyersâ attention). Br. 45. As Jeffries sees it, Chancellor Moyers was No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 14 the recipient of the video, and only his perspective matters. See Alkhabaz, 104 F.3d at 1496. But § 875(c) does not require a threat to be communicated to its target. It prohibits a âcommunication containing any threatâ regardless of whether the threat reaches the target. See id. at 1495â96. Each of Jeffriesâ Facebook links represents a communication. Although Chancellor Moyers was the only target of Jeffriesâ threat, he was not the only receiver of the communication: All of the Facebook friends to whom Jeffries sent the video were recipients. The messages accompanying each link were available to these recipients, and they provide relevant context for determining whether, objectively speaking, a recipient would perceive the video as a threat. The district court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the jury to consider all of the messages as part of all of the contexts in which Jeffries made these communications. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. Other YouTube videos. Jeffries adds that the district court should have allowed him to show the jury other videos he posted on Facebook. Br. 49. But he posted the other videos weeks prior to the one at issue, and their content was unrelated to the hearing with Chancellor Moyers, eliminating the possibility of error, abuse of discretion or otherwise, in excluding them. The key video was captioned âCoors Beer Sucks.â Although these clips might have entertained the jury and illustrated Jeffriesâ âsometimes peculiar sense of humor,â Br. 50, they were not part of the targeted communicationâs context for purposes of determining whether a recipient of the Chancellor Moyers video would perceive it as a threat. The court thus properly excluded this video and several othersââFastest Pin in Wrestling History,â âPT Belt Part One,â âFunniest Video on YouTube (The Big Chair),â âAuditions for Fathers,â R.99-2âas irrelevant. See Fed. R. Evid. 402. Venue. Jeffries claims venue was not proper in the Eastern District of Tennessee because he recorded and uploaded the video in the Western District. But Jeffries transmitted his video âfrom, through, or intoâ the Eastern District, just as the venue statute demands. 18 U.S.C. § 3237(a). Through at least two Facebook links, he No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 15 transmitted the video to recipients in the Eastern District: Jeffriesâ sister and the news station WBIR Channel 10. For these reasons, we affirm. No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 16 _______________________ DUBITANTE _______________________ SUTTON, Circuit Judge, dubitante. Sixth Circuit precedent compels this interpretation of § 875(c), one that requires the government to prove only that a reasonable observer would construe the communicated words as a threat, not that the defendant meant the words to be a threat as well. The First Amendment, as construed by Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003), does not require a different interpretation. I write separately because I wonder whether our initial decisions in this area (and those of other courts) have read the statute the right way from the outset. The statute prohibits âtransmit[ting] in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to . . . injure the person of another.â 18 U.S.C. § 875(c). The key phrase is âthreat . . . to injure the person of another.â The key word is âthreat.â Every relevant definition of the noun âthreatâ or the verb âthreaten,â whether in existence when Congress passed the law (1932) or today, includes an intent component. â[T]o declare (usually conditionally) oneâs intention of inflicting injury uponâ a person, says one dictionary. 11 Oxford English Dictionary 352 (1st ed. 1933). â[A]n expression of an intention to inflict loss or harm on another by illegal means, esp. when effecting coercion or duress of the person threatened,â says another. Websterâs New Intâl Dictionary 2633 (2d ed. 1955). âA communicated intent to inflict harm or loss on another,â says still another. Blackâs Law Dictionary 1489 (7th ed. 1999). And so on: âAn expression of an intention to inflict pain, injury, evil, or punishment.â American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 1801 (4th ed. 2000). And on: âAn expression of intention to inflict something harmful.â Websterâs New College Dictionary 1149 (1995). And on: â[A] declaration of an intention or determination to inflict punishment, injury, etc., in retaliation for, or conditionally upon, some action or course.â Random House Unabridged Dictionary 1975 (2d ed. 1987). No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 17 Conspicuously missing from any of these dictionaries is an objective definition of a communicated âthreat,â one that asks only how a reasonable observer would perceive the words. If words matter, I am hard pressed to understand why these definitions do not resolve todayâs case. The definitions, all of them, show that subjective intent is part and parcel of the meaning of a communicated âthreatâ to injure another. The history of § 875 reinforces this conclusion. The law made its first appearance in 1932, starting out only as a prohibition on extortion. It encompassed threats coupled with an intent to extort something valuable from the target of the threat. Pub. L. No. 72-274 (1932) (prohibiting a âthreatâ communicated âwith intent to extort . . . money or other thing of valueâ). From the beginning, the communicated âthreatâ thus had a subjective component to it. Nothing changed when Congress added a new âthreatâ prohibition through § 875(c) in 1939. The question was whether the legislature should prohibit nonextortive threats, not whether the statute should cover words that might be perceived as threatening but which the speaker never intended to create that perception. See Pub. L. No. 76-76 (1939). In debates about the bill, the notion of intention-free threats never came up; what dominated the discussion was the distinction between threats made for the purpose of extorting money and threats borne of other (intentional) purposes: âanimosity,â âspiteâ or ârevenge.â Threatening Communications: Hearing Before the Comm. on the Post Office and Post Roads, 76th Cong. 7, 9 (1939) (statement of William W. Barron, Dept. of Justice). In prohibiting non-extortive threats through the addition of § 875(c), Congress offered no hint that it meant to write subjective conceptions of intent out of the statute. Background norms for construing criminal statutes point in the same direction. Courts presume that intent is the required mens rea in criminal laws, Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 250 (1952), a presumption that applies at a minimum to the âcrucial element separating legal innocence from wrongful conduct,â United States v. XCitement Video, Inc., 513 U.S. 64, 73 (1994). The crucial element of § 875(c)âwhat divides innocence from crimeâis a threat. It is not enough that a defendant knowingly communicates something in interstate commerce; he must communicate a threat, a word No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 18 that comes with a state-of-mind component. Allowing prosecutors to convict without proof of intent reduces culpability on the all-important element of the crime to negligence. That after all is what an objective test does: It asks only whether a reasonable listener would understand the communication as an expression of intent to injure, permitting a conviction not because the defendant intended his words to constitute a threat to injure another but because he should have known others would see it that way. The reasonable man rarely takes the stage in criminal law. Yet, when he does, the appearance springs not from some judicially manufactured deus ex machina but from an express congressional directive. Id; see U.S.S.G. § 2 B3.1 cmt. n.6 (defining âthreat of deathâ only as âconduct that would instill in a reasonable person . . . a fear of deathâ). No such directive exists here. To the contrary: In enacting § 875(c), Congress just used the word âthreat,â indicating that one cannot make a prohibited menacing communication without meaning to do so. What, then, explains, all of this contrary authority? I am not sure. None of the cases addressing this issue cites, much less quotes, any dictionary definitions of âthreat.â Nor do any of them mention the history of the statute, its roots in extortion or its purpose. To the extent the cases mention the presumption in favor of a mens rea for a criminal statute, they say only that this customary feature of criminal laws is answered by the requirement that the threat be knowingly communicated, not that it be subjectively threatening, even though the threat is the defining feature of the crime. Instead of heeding these conventional indicators of meaning, some of the cases, including our own, have framed the inquiry as one of general versus specific intent, equating general intent with an objective definition of âthreat.â âIf the statute contains a general intent requirement,â we have said, âthe standard used to determine whether or not the communication contained an actual threat is an objective standard . . . . If the statute contains a specific intent requirement, the standard is a subjective standard.â DeAndino, 958 F.2d at 148. I am not sure where DeAndino found the rule that general intent is synonymous with an objective definition of threat. However useful this concept No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 19 may be in deciphering laws in other areas, perhaps even in criminal cases from time to time, the distinction does not entitle courts to alter the meaning of âthreat.â Other cases, many of the recent ones, have looked at this issue through the prism of free-speech principles and the Black decision. But the bright lights of the First Amendment may have done more to distract than inform. Ever since the Watts decision in 1969, it has been clear as a matter of constitutional avoidance that threat prohibitions like this one cover only ârealâ threats, threats in other words that a reasonable observer would take as true and real. Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 708 (1969) (per curiam). That is all well and good, as it makes sense to interpose this objective requirement on the criminalization of speech. But that consideration offers no basis for alchemizing the normal meaning of threat into an objective-intent question alone. What should happen instead is this: The statute should require first what the words say (a subjectively intended threat) and second what constitutional avoidance principles demand (an objectively real threat). Nor is it the least bit unusual to adopt a legal standard that contains objective and subjective components. See, e.g., Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (laying out objective and subjective components of an Eighth Amendment prison claim); Hadjimehdigholi v. I.N.S., 49 F.3d 642, 646 (10th Cir. 1995) (âThe well-founded fear of persecution standard [for refugee status] is comprised of both a subjective and an objective component.â); United States v. Spinelli, 848 F.2d 26, 28 (2d Cir. 1988) (â[T]he proper standard for determining whether exigent circumstances warranted noncompliance with the knock-and-announce statute comprises both subjective and objective components.â); Vikase Companies, Inc. v. World PAC Interâl AG, 710 F. Supp. 2d 754, 756 (N.D. Ill. 2010) (âThe test for bad faith comprises both objective and subjective components.â). When some law-making bodies âget into grooves,â Judge Learned Hand used to say, âGod saveâ the poor soul tasked with âget[ting] them out.â Hand, The Spirit of Liberty 241â42 (2d ed. 1954). That may be Franklin Delano Jeffriesâ fateâand ours. The Department of Justice, defense lawyers and future courts may wish to confirm that No. 11-5722 United States v. Jeffries Page 20 the current, nearly uniform standard for applying § 875(c) is the correct one. I am inclined to think it is not.