Updated: Dangerous Admirers How to Protect Public Figures From Harassers
By TorchStone Senior Analyst, Ben West
On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 to vacate a Colorado state conviction of a man who sent over 1,000 concerning messages to singer/songwriter Coles Whalen, determining that his speech was protected under the First Amendment.
The court rejected Colorado’s “true threats” test and determined that such laws must take into account the intent of the sender and prove that they have “some subjective understanding of [their] statements’ threatening nature”.
In this case, the defendant claimed that he was suffering from mental illness at the time and was not aware of the distress he was causing Ms. Whalen.
The case will now go back down to the lower courts, which must reconsider their conviction under the Supreme Court’s new guidelines.
It is possible that the courts could uphold the conviction if prosecutors could prove that the stalker intended harm to Ms. Whalen.
As discussed in our post, Dangerous Admirers: How to Protect Public Figures From Harassers As Legal Protections Are in Jeopardy, this decision has the potential to “weaken state and local laws protecting victims of stalking and increase the threshold of establishing ‘true threats’” in future cases.
Multiple groups advocating for victims of stalking and abuse, including the Family Violence Law Center, filed briefs supporting the conviction, arguing that a Supreme Court reversal could make it harder for victims to seek protection from their abusers.
The June 27 decision is perhaps most concerning to individuals with a significant public profile, such as Coles Whalen, who tend to attract hostile followers among their fans.
The decision appears to put a higher burden on the victim to prove that their stalker acted with the intent to harm, which will likely require more resources when it comes to preserving and collecting evidence.
While high-level government officials, high-profile celebrities, and business executives typically have the resources to hire professional security teams, backed up by intelligence collection and management, most public personalities do not have such resources—and more often suffer injury or death.