Attorney General Jason Miyares joined a bipartisan coalition of 26 states today in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting states’ efforts to protect their residents from violent threats.
The brief was filed in support of Colorado in Counterman v. Colorado, which is pending with the Supreme Court. The case involves a Colorado man who was convicted of stalking a local singer-songwriter after he sent her threatening messages, including death threats, over the course of two years. The question before the Supreme Court is whether the man’s statements were protected speech and could not be used to convict him. The man argues that a state is required in a criminal case to prove that he intended to frighten the victim; whereas, Colorado argues a jury can look to context to determine whether the threat was a so-called “true threat.”
“As Attorney General, my number one priority is the safety of Virginians. Constant, repeated threats of violence have to be taken seriously,” said Attorney General Miyares.
Attorney General Miyares and the coalition argue the First Amendment does not protect statements that an objectively reasonable person would understand as being serious threats to inflict violence. Since the First Amendment was ratified, many states have used an objective standard to regulate threats, both civilly and criminally. For example, this objective standard has been important to states’ ability to protect students from threatened school shootings, abuse victims from threatened domestic violence, and individuals of all backgrounds from threats of hate crimes.
Additionally, Attorney General Miyares and the coalition explain states sometime use subjective standards, such as requiring proof of a speaker’s intent to threaten, before enforcing a penalty. However, the choice to use a subjective or objective standard has always been left to the states since they can address policy concerns and local needs. Miyares argued that if the First Amendment is interpreted to always require a subjective standard, it could jeopardize a range of important state laws.
Joining Attorney General Miyares in submitting the brief were the attorneys general of Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wyoming, as well as Connecticut’s chief state’s attorney.
Read the brief HERE.