Fear and Trembling in Our American Police State: No Jokes Allowed Edition

patriot act turning citizens into suspects brr-law.comWe’re apparently living in a hyper-sensitive era — some might call it a police state — where all the government needs to do is utter the dreaded word “terror” and all pretense of us living in a land where we are afforded constitutional protections goes out the window.

For examples, one need look no further than the case of Justin Carter. Justin was playing an online game when he was being antagonized by another player. The other player apparently called him “messed up in the head” and Justin responded by upping the ante, saying that he was crazy and was going to shoot up a school. He then apparently followed that up with “lol” and “j/k” (which is internet-speak for laughing out loud and just kidding).

These jokes were made in poor taste, clearly. But if poor taste was a crime I don’t think the producers of Keeping Up With the Kardashians or Honey Boo-Boo would be allowed to roam the streets.

But another player was able to figure out where Carter lived and called on his local authorities to investigate. You would think that once they discovered that he didn’t have the means to go and shoot up a school that they would have realized that he was, in actuality, just kidding and that would be the end of it.

But you’d be wrong.

justin carterCarter was arrested on a charge of making a terroristic threat and has been held on $500,000.00 bail since February. He has been beaten by other inmates, and held naked in solitary confinement for apparently being a suicide risk. It was only very recently that an anonymous benefactor posted Carter’s half-million-dollar bail.

As Los Angeles attorney Ken White notes on his fantastic blog Popehat, the affidavits for the search and arrest warrants (the affidavit is a sworn statement by an officer to a judge that the judge then uses to determine if there is probable cause) was completely gutted of any context, negating the judge’s ability to make an independent determination of probable cause.

But even though Carter is out on bail, he’s still facing the possibility of ten years in prison and a felony conviction if he’s convicted. For making a bad joke. In an argument. About an online game.

Suppose Carter is acquitted, or the Texas prosecutors handling his case realize they need to drop the charges — he’s won, so what? The fact that the police can come kick down your door and drag you off to some concrete room for something like this has broad ramifications for all of us.

I’m not wearing a tin-foil hat, but does Carter’s case mean that we all need to be very careful about what we say online, even if we’re joking, lest we find ourselves held in solitary confinement? Is that what freedom of speech passes for these days? If it can happen in Texas, it surely can happen here in the Bluegrass, too.

Tucker Richardson

Tucker Richardson

Tucker is a founding member and managing partner of Baldani, Rowland and Richardson. He practices in all areas of state and federal criminal defense, from capital murder defense to DUI defense. You can reach Tucker at 859-259-0727.
Tucker Richardson

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