The People v. LoweryAnnotate this Case
Defendant was charged with violating a state statute that prohibited "willfully" threatening violence against a crime witness or victim, Pen. Code 140(a), where defendant, in a recorded telephone conversation with his incarcerated wife, said that he would kill an 88-year-old man who had accused the couple of stealing money from his mobile home. At issue was whether the statute violate defendant's free speech under the First Amendment. The court construed section 140(a) as requiring proof that a reasonable person would understand the allegedly threatening statements, when considered in their context and surrounding circumstances, "to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence," the high court's definition of a "true threat." Thus, section 140(a) did not violate the First Amendment. The court held that, although the appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the statute, it did so on grounds different from the reasonable person standard the court articulated. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment of the appeals court and remanded to that court to consider whether the court's holding affected defendant's judgment of conviction.