This week, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a man given a six-year sentence for threatening to release a sex tape on Facebook.
The case involved a landlord named Lister Harrell who made the threats against a county clerk in 2013. The landlord wanted the clerk to lift a bench warrant for his arrest because of a failure to appear in court over alleged landlord violations, and he threatened to release the supposed sex tape if she didn’t comply. However, the Supreme Court found that there wasn’t a sex tape at all, and so despite the threat (and a phone call the landlord made to another clerk spreading the information), they overturned the conviction.
“While Harrell’s speech might well be described as caustic and unpleasant it did not convey ‘a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence,'” the court ruled.
Though Harrell’s behavior was definitely wrong, intimidating and embarrassing, the court found that his actions did not constitute a “true threat.” However, in the social media age, the lines between vague and real threats are only becoming blurrier. Would the court’s ruling have been different if Harrell actually possessed a tape? Who knows, but cases like this one are only going to become more common.