South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Serious Threat to Kill President Not Protected by First Amendment
Description Appeals court held that a person who makes a knowing and willful threat to kill the president of the U.S. is not protected by First Amendment free speech right when the threat is not seen by others as a joke.
Topic Criminal Law
Key Words Murder Threat; Knowing and Willful; Free Speech
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Lockhart was convicted of making a threat to kill the president of the U.S. She had gone to the manager of a grocery store and, while requesting that she be hired, gave the manager a letter that said, among other things, "If George Bush refuses to see the truth and uphold the Constitution I will personally put a bullet in his head." This was reported to the Secret Service, who already had numerous threat letters from her. She was found guilty of threatening to kill the president and sentenced to 21 months in prison. She appealed, contending that her statement was protected by the First Amendment.
Decision

Affirmed. Lockhart knowingly and willfully made a threat to harm or kill the president, which constitutes a violation for which one may be convicted. Her contention that the statement is protected by the First Amendment as free speech, and that the statement was made as a joke, is contradicted by the evidence that the statement was made in a serious manner to a stranger, and so constitutes a "true threat," not a statement to be taken lightly.

Citation U.S. v. Lockhart, 382 F.3d 447 (4th Cir., 2004)

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