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Court of Appeals Upholds Felony Terroristic Threat Conviction for Whispered Statement to Child

15 Aug

In State v. Hershbergeran unpublished opinion released on August 9, 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld, among other things, a defendant’s conviction for felony terroristic threats for whispering in the ear of a child that she and her siblings would “have to pay for what [they] did to him.”

The defendant in the case, Tim Hershberger, had previously been convicted of gross-misdemeanor malicious punishment of the children in question, and the court reasoned that, “Given the relationship history and [the child’s] age of eight, it was reasonable for her to interpret Hershberger’s statement as a threat to commit great bodily harm, and Hershberger acted, if not with the purpose of causing such terror, at least in reckless disregard of doing so.”

Under Minn. Stat. § 609.713, “Whoever threatens, directly or indirectly, to commit any crime of violence with purpose to terrorize another . . . or in a reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror” is guilty of terroristic threats, and to convict on a charge of felony terroristic threats, a jury must find that the defendant threatened “a specific predicate crime of violence,” as listed in Minn. Stat. § 609.1095.

Essentially, the jury, and subsequently the Court of Appeals, found that Hershberger’s whispered words were a threat of a “a specific predicate crime of violence,” namely first-degree assault. Hershberger’s only statements cited in the opinion came from the child’s testimony at trial that Hershberger whispered a statement to her, “saying we have to pay for what we did to him.”

The opinion does not address any First Amendment concerns with the conviction or Minnesota’s terroristic threats statute, neither does it reference any U.S. Supreme Court precedence regarding the Constitutional limitations on criminally actionable threats.

Hershberger was also convicted of felony stalking with intent to injure, and stalking by return to property without consent.



High School Students, Alumni Face Repercussions for Twitter Account

24 Jul

On July 20, the Student Press Law Center had an interesting report on a Twitter account set up by several students and recent graduates of Worthington High School to gossip about classmates. According to the report, Worthington police said the creators of the account could face charges including terroristic threats, harassment and libel, in addition to discipline from the school. The SPLC has some great commentary on the limits of these potential disciplinary threats. Additional information is available at the Worthington Daily Globe.

Lakeville Teens Plead Guilty

27 Jun

In an update to a story that the Twin Cities media has gone absolutely crazy over (see, e.g. coverage in Patch, MPR, PiPress, and Strib) it looks like 3 of the 4 Lakeville teens mentioned in this prior post have plead guilty to a gross misdemeanor count of conspiracy to interfere with privacy (Minn. Stat. 609.746), and not the more constitutionally troublesome criminal defamation with which they were apparently also charged. According to the reports, a fourth student’s case has yet to be resolved.

Minnesota Supreme Court Says U of M Student’s Rights not Violated by Punishment for Facebook Post

20 Jun

According the Syllabus: “The University of Minnesota did not violate the free speech rights of a student enrolled in the Mortuary Science Program by imposing disciplinary sanctions for Facebook posts that violated academic program rules where the academic program rules were narrowly tailored and directly related to established professional conduct standards.”

I have not read the whole decision yet, but you can read the opinion yourself here. The Void previously reported on the Tatro case here.


The Student Press Law Center has some great analysis of the case here.

Maple Grove Teacher Sentenced for Felony Terroristic Threats

19 Jun

Maple Grove Patch reports that Robert Christopher Baker of Maple Grove was sentenced yesterday to three years probation, a $300 fine,  and 24 days in a Hennepin County workhouse after pleading guilty to a felony charge of making “terroristic threats” against two area high schools.

According to a previous Patch story, the charges stemmed from a Facebook posting by Baker, a former substitute teacher, which included a cartoon figure holding what appeared to be a rocket launcher, with the caption, “First, we’ll blow up Osseo Senior. Then, we’ll blow up Maple Grove Senior.”  Baker said he posted the cartoon because he was angry about being fired from the schools. It is unclear from the reporting whether Baker targeted his cartoon at the schools themselves or any school employees. It is clear, however, that because of these cartoons, Baker is now a convicted felon.

“Terroristic threats” are defined in Minn. Stat. 609.713.

Lakeville Teens Face Criminal Charges for Locker Room Photos

12 Jun

Local media is reporting like crazy on the story of a group of Lakeville teens who were charged in connection with the taking and distributing of photos and video of two girls partially undressed in the locker room at a middle school in Lakeville. The story involves minors, so I doubt we’ll ever see any criminal complaints or learn what sentences are meted out, but according to local media the kids were charged with conspiracy to commit interference with privacy and criminal defamation.

Criminal interference with privacy is detailed in Minn. Stat. 609.746. Criminal Defamation can be found in Minn. Stat. 609.765.

If you have a few seconds, check out that Criminal Defamation statute. I haven’t seen it invoked before, but it strikes me as pretty darn broad, and it potentially criminalizes a lot of Constitutionally protected speech.

Anyway, be careful out there, Minnesota.