A man in Bucks County is being accused of making terroristic threats against Temple University in Philadelphia. The incident draws out the line between a criminal threat and your First Amendment rights.
Man Arrested for Making Terroristic Threats While Buying Ammunition at Walmart
The incident all happened during the evening of Wednesday, July 31, 2019. A 29-year-old native of Morrisville was at the Walmart in Tullytown, purchasing five boxes of ammunition. He and another customer at the Walmart got into a discussion about Temple University's police and security.
The Morrisville man apparently told the other customer that he was buying ammunition because he “knew police wear body armor.” The Morrisville man added that the other customer would see him on the news very soon.
He had visited other Walmart stores, as well, purchasing things like knives and propane bottles.
When the other customer and Walmart officials reported his behavior to the police, the Morrisville man was arrested.
He was arraigned on August 3 and is being held in jail on charges of making terroristic threats and harassment.
Pennsylvania's Terroristic Threats Law
Pennsylvania has a law that forbids making targeted threats of violence – 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2706. This law prohibits threatening to commit:
- A crime of violence with intent to terrorize
- An evacuation of a building
- Serious public inconvenience
Those threats are illegal under the terroristic threats law, regardless of whether they are made against the target directly or if they are told to a third party.
But What About Your First Amendment Rights?
Many people who think about Pennsylvania's terroristic threats law realize that it forbids certain kinds of speech – and free speech is one of the most important rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
What most people don't realize, though, is that the First Amendment does not protect all kinds of speech. There are several types of speech or expression that are not protected. These include:
- Incitement of illegal activity
- True threats
According to the Supreme Court in Virginia v. Black, this last category of unprotected speech allows the government – whether the federal government or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – to create laws that prohibit speech that communicates “a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”
Pennsylvania has done just that, with its law against making terroristic threats.
Criminal Defense in Philadelphia: Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who represents those accused of a crime in the Philadelphia area. Charges of terroristic threats are serious offenses that can be felonies if they create a serious disturbance. Felonies like these carry over 7 years in jail for a conviction, so having an effective criminal defense lawyer on your side can be essential for your future.
If you have been accused of a crime like making terroristic threats, Joseph D. Lento can help you invoke your rights and defend against the charge. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.