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A jury's reminder: Online rants can bring criminal consequences

We have noted in a prior blog post (August 16) how an online presence not marked by discretion and probity can come back to haunt a person. Posted pictures that belie a stated reality -- think public intoxication for a person who says he or she is a reformed alcoholic, or a photo of someone who has filed for bankruptcy standing in front of a just-purchased Mercedes Benz -- can undermine credibility and have other adverse effects.

Here, and for purposes of this blog, think divorce. Think child custody or virtually any other family law matter.

Think prison. That last possibility is the likely outcome for a Pennsylvania man whose comments offered on Facebook concerning family law matters just resulted in a jury convicting him on numerous counts of sending threatening communications.

He said that, essentially, it was all in fun. His comments constituted mere venting, he claimed, and were uttered pursuant to a role he was playing.

A number of other parties disagreed with that view, including, most importantly, the federal jury that convicted him. Jurors found that statements he made online to his wife, an FBI agent, Pennsylvania police officers and a kindergarten class were criminally threatening.

One of the comments that alarmed jurors was this: "Hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a kindergarten class."

The man said that his statements were not "true threats," and that they were all confined to a time when he had just lost his job and his wife had separated from him, taking the couple's two children.

We end this post by reiterating the theme of the above-referenced August 16 article: Any person with the potential to have a family law matter in court had best think hard about and review his or her online presence.

Source: Legal Intelligencer, "Jury convicts on four of five counts in Facebook threat case" Oct. 21, 2011

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