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Supreme Court rules that threats posted on Facebook not a crime if just a rant

Supporters of free speech on social media won a big victory when the US Supreme Court ruled on June 1, 2015, that a federal law which prosecuted a man for making statements on Facebook, that a reasonable person would have viewed as threatening, was unconstitutional.
A man posted the following on Facebook, “Did you know that it’s illegal for me to say I want to kill my wife?” In another, he wrote he would “not rest until your body is a mess, sealed in blood and dying from all the little cuts.” He also posted that he was about to “pull my knife [and] slit her throat.” He was convicted when a jury concluded that a reasonable person would have regarded the posts as threats.
Chief Justice Roberts stated that because the man thought that his posts were “therapeutic rants,” he did not have an “awareness of wrongdoing.” The defendant had posted disclaimers on Facebook stating that he was exercising his right to free speech and was inspired by rap lyrics. Justice Roberts stated that it was an error for the trial judge to permit the jury to convict the defendant based only on how his posts would be viewed by a reasonable person; the defendant had to be aware that his rants were true threats. The use of the words could not constitute a crime if the speaker’s intended meaning was not considered.
This ruling is important because even if a reasonable person would view the speech as a threat, if the speaker did not intend it to be a threat, it is not a crime. A defendant can be convicted only if he “transmits a communication for the purpose of issuing a threat or with the knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat.”
For our purposes, if a speech based criminal charge is alleged, the speaker’s intent is controlling. Relevant to any defense of such a charge is an in depth analysis of the specific facts and circumstances surrounding the current posts and the speaker’s belief as to the purpose of the speech.