Just last week, we discussed the case of kids threatening to commit mass murder online. I mentioned that this was not the climate for it. This was illustrated horribly this past weekend in Tucson, Arizona. The end result of the event is that Federal prosecutors have brought charges against the alleged gunman accused of attempting to assassinate Representative. Gabrielle Giffords and, in the process, killing six people, ages ranging from a 9-year-old-child to an elderly woman.
Jared Lee Loughner, 22, (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) is the man accused of the shootings. He is said to have also fired at Giffords’ district director and others s standing in line to talk to the congresswoman,
“He was not more than three or four feet from the congresswoman and the district director,” said Mark Kimble, a communications staffer for Giffords. He went on to describe the scene as “just complete chaos, people screaming, crying.”
It is believed that the Defendant acted alone. Investigators said they carried out a search warrant at the Defendant’s home and seized an envelope from a safe with messages such as “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and the name “Giffords” next to what appears to be the Defendant’s signature.
Doctors treating the lawmaker provided an optimistic update about her chances for survival, saying they are “very, very encouraged” by her ability to respond to simple commands along with their success in controlling her bleeding.
Nobody seems sure about the motive of the shooting. However, in YouTube videos, which featured text against a dark background, the Defendant described inventing a new U.S. currency and complained about the illiteracy rate among people living in Giffords’ congressional district in Arizona.
“I know who’s listening: Government Officials, and the People,” the Defendant apparently wrote. “Nearly all the people, who don’t know this accurate information of a new currency, aren’t aware of mind control and brainwash methods. If I have my civil rights, then this message wouldn’t have happen (sic).”
The assassination attempt has left Americans questioning whether divisive politics had pushed the Defendant over the edge. With the answer still unknown, calls to lower the temperature of American discourse came from all parts of the political spectrum.
“We have had times in our history when the discourse has been terrifying,” said former Senator Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania, who served as a civil rights adviser to President Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “But this is one of the worst times in my lifetime.” The past 20 years, he said, has brought “a deterioration in the civil discourse.
Yes, in fact, as I recall, one time such discourse ended up in a civil war.’
As an experienced attorney who has practiced criminal law for over 25 years, both as a defense attorney as well as a prosecutor, I have seen cases which begin as political discourse and then end up in arrests for all types of criminal acts.
It is no longer unheard of for people to either threaten online or actually accent their protests with gunfire.
The concern about the heat of political rhetoric is absolutely justified. During the last presidential election, for example, candidates for high office had to sometimes quiet down supporters who had been revved up by accusing political opponents enemies of the country.
This is the environment in which we now find ourselves. So, what does this mean to you?
Be careful. Everyone gets angry. Everyone loses their cool every once in awhile. However, pithy little sayings like, “I could just kill him” , “Somebody ought to just put a bullet in him” or “I’m gonna beat the [expletive of your choice] out of him”, are likely to get you arrested.
Years ago, freedom of speech was treated differently. We seemed to be able to differentiate between “figures of speech” and actual threats.
Today, between atrocities like the one in Arizona, additional instant public forums on the web and the perceived need for law enforcement to cover itself from public ridicule, what one says is taken literally.
The Commonwealth is not shy about prosecuting such literal statements vigorously. The Defendant’s case will only enhance that on a national level.
If you would like to discuss a criminal matter with me, please feel free to call me to arrange a free initial consultation at 617-492-3000.
To view the original stories in which parts of this blog were based, please go to : http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2011/01/09/az_shooting_targets_us_congresswoman_kills_6/?page=full and http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2011/01/10/attack_sparks_soul_searching_on_fiery_rhetoric/