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On June 1, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Elonis v. United States. This case involves two questions. First, this case asks whether the First Amendment requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten in order to convict someone of threatening another person under 18 U.S. C. § 875(c), or whether it is sufficient to demonstrate that a “reasonable person” would consider the statement to be threatening. The second question in this case is whether, as a matter of statutory interpretation, conviction of another person requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten.

In an opinion delivered by the Chief Justice, the Court held that general intent is not sufficient to support a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 875(c) and that the imposition of criminal penalties under the statute requires proof of a “guilty mind.” 

Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion for the Court was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Alito filed a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. Justice Thomas filed a dissent. 

To discuss the case, we have Kent S. Scheidegger, Legal Director & General Counsel, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation and John Elwood, Partner, Vinson & Elkins LLP.

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