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Facebook ‘Threat’ Case Returns to Court [UPDATE]

Motions to dismiss in Justin Carter free speech case rejected

By Mac McCann, 10:00AM, Sat. Aug. 30

Justin Carter
Justin Carter
Courtesy of the Carter Family

Late Friday, state District Judge Jack Robison rejected defense motions to dismiss "terroristic threat" charges against Justin Carter, based on a 2013 Facebook post that defense counsel argued was joking "hyperbole." Prosecutors countered that a jury should decide the case. We'll have more on the case next week; a trial is scheduled for Oct. 27.

Here's the Newsdesk report from Aug. 22:

In February 2013, then-18-year-old Justin Carter made a sarcastic Facebook comment about shooting up a kindergarten – a comment that, initially reported to Austin police by an anonymous tipster, eventually landed him in the Comal County jail. (“Facebook Threat Case Unresolved, Feb. 28”)

On Tuesday, August 26, the Comal County Court in New Braunfels will hold a hearing that has the potential to absolve Carter. His lawyer, Donald Flanary, described the hearing as “the first major substantive hearing that addresses the First Amendment issues in this case.” Flanary’s argument is largely based on Watts v. United States (1969), when the court ruled that hyperbole (which Flanary argues accurately describes Carter’s alleged “threat,” made during an online dispute over a video game) shouldn’t be considered a serious threat. A second motion focuses on the statute under which Carter was arrested, which Flanary calls “unconstitutionally vague.”

Flanary will also argue that there wasn’t legitimate probable cause to issue a warrant for Carter’s arrest, since the arrest was based on an anonymous tip, without serious investigation. If the motion to suppress is successful, then the prosecution will essentially have no evidence, other than Carter’s acknowledgment of posting the comment, which was obtained through an illegal warrant and without his attorney present. Flanary believes that either the case will be dismissed outright or the evidence will be ruled inadmissible – and in either result, the prosecution would end.

If the current motions are unsuccessful, Flanary said, Carter could appeal the rulings or he could take the case to trial. The attorney remains confident Carter would be found innocent. “It doesn’t make any sense to me that anyone would think what he did was a crime.”

Read more Chronicle coverage of the case here and here.

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