Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Stevens

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

February 6, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
JEFFREY ALLEN STEVENS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma (No. 4:16-CR-00134-CVE-1)

          Barry L. Derryberry, Assistant Federal Public Defender (Julia L. O'Connell, Federal Public Defender, and William P. Widell, Jr., Assistant Federal Public Defender, with him on the briefs), Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Leena Alam, Assistant United States Attorney (Loretta F. Radford, Acting United States Attorney, with her on the brief), Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, HOLMES, and MATHESON, Circuit Judges.

          MATHESON, Circuit Judge.

         Jeffrey A. Stevens was indicted on 10 counts of interstate communication with intent to injure under 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) for posting 10 messages on the Tulsa Police Department's ("TPD") online "Citizen Complaint" form. The messages discussed committing violence against specific members of the TPD or TPD officers generally. Mr. Stevens moved to dismiss the indictment on First Amendment grounds, arguing his messages were not true threats. The district court denied the motion because a reasonable jury could construe the messages to be true threats. Mr. Stevens pled guilty to five counts conditioned on his right to appeal the denial of his motion, which he has done here.

         The district court properly denied Mr. Stevens's motion. A reasonable jury could understand his messages to be true threats. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual History

         On September 16, 2016, TPD Officer Betty Shelby shot and killed Terence Crutcher, an African-American. The shooting made national headlines and reignited a heated debate over law enforcement's use of force against minorities.

         Three days after the shooting, Mr. Stevens, a Connecticut resident, sent the first of multiple anonymous messages to the TPD via an online form the public could use to complain about the TPD. This first message read:

[Message No. 1, sent on September 19, 2016, at 6:18 P.M.]
The psychotic pile of s--- who MURDERED the unarmed civilian who broke down is going to be executed, as are ALL psychotic s---bags you and other PDs hire across this Nation who murder unarmed civilians. They are all going to be killed.

ROA Vol. 1 at 31. Over the next three days, Mr. Stevens submitted nine more messages.[1]

         Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation traced the messages to Mr. Stevens's residence. They interviewed Mr. Stevens, who confessed to sending the messages.

         B. Procedural History

         A grand jury indicted Mr. Stevens on 10 counts of interstate communication with intent to injure in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c). He moved to dismiss the indictment, alleging the First Amendment protected his statements because they were not true threats. The district court denied Mr. Stevens's motion, finding that a reasonable jury could understand his messages to be true threats. United States v. Stevens, No. 16-CR-0134-CVE, 2016 WL 7442657, at *2 (N.D. Okla. Dec. 27, 2016).

         Mr. Stevens next entered into a plea agreement. He pled guilty to five of the 10 counts, but reserved the right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion.[2]Following the guilty plea, the district court sentenced Mr. Stevens to 12 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. He now appeals the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss the indictment.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         "[W]e review the . . . denial of a motion to dismiss an indictment for an abuse of discretion." United States v. Ambort, 405 F.3d 1109, 1116 (10th Cir. 2005). "An error of law is per se an abuse of discretion, " United States v. Lopez-Avila, 665 F.3d 1216, 1219 (10th Cir. 2011), and we review legal questions de novo, see United States v. Pauler, 857 F.3d 1073, 1075 (10th Cir. 2017).

         Whether a reasonable jury could find Mr. Stevens's statements to be true threats is a question of law. "[I]f there is no question that a defendant's speech is protected by the First Amendment, the court may dismiss the charge as a matter of law." United States v. Wheeler, 776 F.3d 736, 742 (10th Cir. 2015) (quotations and citations omitted). But, "absent an unusual set of facts, the question whether statements amount to true threats is a question generally best left to a jury." Id. (quotations and citations omitted). If the court determines a "reasonable jury could find that the [] communication[s] constitute[] . . . true threat[s], " then it may deny the defendant's motion to dismiss. United States v. Stock, 728 F.3d 287, 298 (3d Cir. 2013). Because the district court here refused to dismiss the indictment because a jury could find Mr. Stevens's messages to be true threats, we review its ruling de novo.

         B. Legal Background

         1. Elements of a § 875(c) Offense

Whoever [1] transmits in interstate or foreign commerce [2] any communication containing [3] any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.