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The Elonis Decision by the Supreme Court Could Place Victims in Jeopardy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 1, 2015
Contact: Tara Ballesteros  tballesteros@ncvc.org – 202-467-8743

Washington, DC - The National Center for Victims of Crime is disappointed in today’s ruling by the Supreme Court in Elonis v. U.S. The decision, announced this morning, creates additional confusion and questions that must be decided by a lower court as it relates to stalking laws across the country.

“The internet is the crime scene of the 21st century. The laws governing social media require swift interpretation to keep pace with the ever-advancing criminal activity in this space. The Justices today missed the opportunity to define the law and left the victims of this case and others in jeopardy,” said Mai Fernandez, Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

The Court rejected the conviction of Anthony Elonis who was found guilty by a lower court of making violent threats against his ex-wife and others on Facebook.  In this case, the Court held that the jury instructions were defective because they only required that a reasonable person would foresee that statements made by Elonis would be interpreted as a threat. The Court refused, however, to explain the necessary standard for a threat to constitute a crime, further endangering victims by providing a wide berth for criminals to act on social media. 

“This decision fails to recognize that victims of stalking experience fear regardless of the offender’s intent.  If what constitutes a threat is not clearly defined, our concern is that this ruling provides enormous space for stalkers and abusers to act.  Offenders can simply claim they never intended harm and as a result will not be held accountable,” commented Michelle M. Garcia, Director of the Stalking Resource Center.

Stalking often escalates, leading to more serious violence including homicide. Over three-quarters (76%) of women murdered by a current or former intimate partner were stalked in the 12 months prior to their deaths.

The National Center for Victims of Crime is the nation’s leading resource and advocacy organization for all crime victims. The Stalking Resource Center, a program of the National Center, enhances the ability of professionals, organizations, and systems to effectively respond to stalking. For additional information and resources, visit www.victimsofcrime.org/src .