Supreme Court declines case about YouTube music video gone wrong (+video)
A father locked in a bitter child visitation dispute voiced his frustrations and ended up being convicted of making illegal threats. On Monday the Supreme Court turned away the case, which raised First Amendment issues.
A father locked in a bitter child visitation dispute chose a highly unorthodox way to express his mounting frustration with the legal system. He produced an edgy music video and posted it on YouTube.Skip to next paragraph
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The father, Franklin Delano Jeffries II, considered his musical creation part personal therapy and part satire – a kind of joke on the oppression of the family court system. He called it “comedy for the courts.”
There was just one huge problem: No one was laughing – especially the judge.
At one point in his video, Mr. Jeffries sings to the judge: “I guarantee you, if you don’t stop, I’ll kill you.”
Jeffries quickly found himself in a different courtroom – this time as a criminal defendant charged and convicted of making illegal threats. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In his appeal, he claimed he never intended his YouTube video to be an actual threat.
It didn’t matter. The lower courts upheld his conviction and, on Monday, the US Supreme Court refused to hear his final appeal, thus ending the case.
The case was potentially significant because it raised the issue of when threatening words exceed First Amendment protections and enter the realm of illegality.
US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli had urged the high court to deny Jeffries’s petition.
Jeffries’s lawyers argued that the First Amendment prohibits the government from using a man’s words against him without first proving that the words were delivered with a genuine intent to cause harm.
Prosecutors replied that what Jeffries intended didn’t matter; the words in his music video were actually threatening and, thus, violated the federal threat law.
Here’s another sample of his lyrics:
And when I come to court this better be the last time.
I’m not kidding at all, I’m making this video public.
’Cause if I have to kill a judge or a lawyer or a woman I don’t care.
Take my child and I’ll take your life.
I’m not kidding, judge, you better listen to me.
I killed a man downrange in war.
I have nothing against you, but I’m tellin’ you, this better be the last court date.