United States v. Elonis, No. 12-3798 (3d Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
Elonis’s wife left their home with their children. Elonis began experiencing trouble at work at an amusement park, reportedly leaving early and crying at his desk. An employee Elonis supervised, Morrissey, claimed sexual harassment. In October Elonis posted on Facebook a photograph taken for his employer’s Halloween Haunt. The photograph showed Elonis in costume holding a knife to Morrissey’s neck. Elonis added the caption “I wish.” Elonis’s supervisor saw the posting and fired Elonis. Days later, Elonis began posting statements on Facebook about having “keys for the fucking gates … sinister plans for all my friends,” and, concerning his wife, “would have smothered your ass … dumped your body … and made it look like a rape and murder” that their son “should dress up as matricide for Halloween … head on a stick” and “I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.” Following issuance of a state court protective order, Elonis posted statements concerning shooting at his wife’s house, using explosives, and “I’m checking out and making a name for myself … hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class.” After being visited by federal agents, he posted statements about blowing up SWAT members. Elonis was convicted of transmitting in interstate commerce communications containing a threat to injure the person of another, 18 U.S.C. 875(c). The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that he did not subjectively intend his Facebook posts to be threatening. A 2003 Supreme Court decision, Virginia v. Black, did not overturn its prior holding that a statement is a true threat when a reasonable speaker would foresee the statement would be interpreted as a threat.