USA v. Perez, No. 21-50945 (5th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Defendant made two social media posts indicating that he paid another man, who was positive for COVID-19, to lick every item at a local grocery store. Defendant did not actually pay the other man, but the posts "set off alarm bells" resulting in FBI agents being dispatched to the grocery store.
Defendant was indicted and ultimately convicted under 18 U.S.C. 1038(a)(1) for orchestrating a hoax that simulated another crime. Defendant claimed on appeal that the biological-weapons statute did not extend to conduct such as licking items in a grocery store and that the terrorist-hoax statute is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. The Fifth Circuit rejected Defendant's challenges, finding that although the
biological-weapons statute does contain an implied exception for local crimes, Defendant's purported conduct was serious enough to place him within the purview of federal law enforcement, and threats like Defendant's are not protected by the First Amendment.