Why decapitation decorations are legal but a Facebook post could mean jail time

High burden to prove terroristic threats

ATLANTA -- Residents are having a strong reaction to a gruesome Halloween scene depicting the decapitation of Hillary Clinton.

After watching the story, many people had questions about what they can say and how they can decorate in this contentious election season.

But despite being pretty gruesome, first amendment experts say this is totally OK on constitutional grounds.

And people on both sides of t he political spectrum have tested the limits.

"It is no question that the display in front of that individual's house was clearly a first amendment right," Attorney Jackie Patterson said.

Patterson said the implied decapitations of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in Halloween displays around the country are totally legal.

"You have to communicate a threat to an individual, and even if you do that, if you don't say you're going to kill the person, it's a misdemeanor," Patterson said.

He said that Halloween decorations are not a direct threat. And this type of display is definitely not a first.

In 2008, Sarah Palin was hanged in effigy - and so was President Obama. Over the summer, someone erected a giant nude statue of Donald Trump in San Francisco. 

Patterson said all of it is legally fine.

"It may be gross, it may not be cool, but it is not a crime," he said.

Attorney Sandy Wallack agrees.

"This is what our country is built on, is being able to express yourselves and have opinions - whether those are political or otherwise," Wallack said. "And in order for the ffrst amendment to work, you have to tolerate and support opinions that you believe in and that you find disturbing."

Where people get in trouble now is social media - where keyboard courage allows them to type something they would never say aloud.

"If they write on Facebook, I'm going to kill Hillary or I'm going to kill Donald Trump, that is different," Patterson said. "Then it crosses a line to a terroristic threat."

He said that, in the age of viral videos and click-bait, people should be careful how they respond.

"If it's on Facebook, the whole world can see it," he said. "And keep in mind, the victim does not have to see it."

It's a very high burden to prove terroristic threats, but if you're found guilty, it's a felony and can carry up to 5 years in prison.

(© 2016 WXIA)


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment