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Threats Levied via Social Media Can Land You with a Felony Charge

Venting online can land you in legal trouble if your words are taken as threats, say cybercrimes defense attorneys with Gainesville’s Law Offices of Edwards & Jones Criminal Defense.

Threats Levied via Social Media Can Land You with a Felony ChargeSocial media sites like Facebook and Twitter can be a sounding board for members’ interests, aggravations and downright anger. But if your online venting goes too far, it could land you in a legal trouble, criminal and computer crimes attorneys in Gainesville say.

A recent legal first, a Florida appeals court ruled that posting threats on one’s personal Facebook page is in fact a crime and can be prosecuted under state law. The case involved language in a Facebook posting by defendant Timothy Ryan O’Leary who was clearly upset over a female cousin’s same-sex relationship. O’Leary posted on his profile page that he would “bury” her and “tear the concrete up with your face and drag you back to your doorstep.”

Though the comments were posted on O’Leary’s personal profile page and were not visible to the cousin, a Duval County circuit judge ruled that the post met each of the three requirements of “sending written threats to kill or do bodily harm” law – a second-degree felony:

  • A person “writes or composes a threat to kill or do bodily injury;”
  • The person “sends or (arranges for) the sending of that communication to another person;” and
  • The “threat is to the recipient of the communication, or a member of his family.”

Defense attorneys argued that because O’Leary posted the comment on his own profile page, it did not constitute “sending.”They noted that the cousin learned of the post only when another family member alerted her to it. Both the trial judge and a three-judge appeals panel disagreed, denying O’Leary’s motion to appeal. O’Leary ultimately was sentenced to ten years in prison.

When venting online, it’s easy to let your emotions get out of hand, and your words can be interpreted in ways or to extents that you never intended. If you’re angry, it’s best to step away from the computer or put down your smartphone until your emotions have cooled. If something you post on Facebook or another social media site is taken as a threat, you’ll need an attorney experienced in criminal and cyber/computer crimes. Call Law Offices of Edwards & Jones Criminal Defense at 352.377.7800 and speak with a Gainesville cybercrimes lawyer today.