Free Speech, Threats, and Guns

FACTS

This story got my attention. Ricky Weinberger was recently arrested on Miami Beach for allegedly making a bunch of “harassing” telephone calls to law enforcement. Apparently, he also posted lots of threats against police on the bulletin board of an on line police themed web site. Most troubling for law enforcement is what they found at his small apartment when they arrested him. Weinberger had stockpiled 16 weapons, which allegedly included six assault rifles, along with 4500 rounds of ammunition. Police believe this was a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Judge Mindy Glazer held Weinberger with no bond. He has three other pending criminal cases that were made against him over the past year. His attorney attempted to secure his freedom by arguing that his both his speech and weapons possession were constitutionally protected. That argument failed.

He was previously ordered by a judge to stop having contact with law enforcement. He allegedly ignored that ordered and continued to make threats against police early this year. Many of the threats were deemed “profane sexual threats.” Articles about this arrest failed to include all the alleged threats made. However, one article claims that while he was being arrested, Weinberger told police, “Don’t rip the jacket or I’ll f***ing kill you.”

ANALYSIS

My analysis has to start with, “Don’t threaten cops.” Obviously, it’s not a good idea. Well, it’s good for my business. I’m pretty sure that if you choose to level even the most mild threat against law enforcement, your chances of finding yourself a guest of the pokey is about 98%. I would next tell you that not all comments that law enforcement deem “harassing” and/or “threatening” are unlawful. The first amendment of the U.S. constitution affords us wide latitude to spew the most offensive and outrageous speech, even if it’s directed at law enforcement. There is a line though. This guy Weinberger seems to have crossed the line, at least when he allegedly threatened to kill the officer if he ripped his jacket. What’s unclear is whether any of the other alleged threats he made are illegal. I would need to see exactly what he said or wrote, along with the context in which those statements were uttered. Just because police or anyone else feels “threatened” or “harassed” doesn’t mean that what is being said is unlawful. If through his words Weinberger directly threatened officers, placed them in fear and had the apparent ability to carry out his threats, then he would have committed assault and thus, is afforded no constitutional protection. If, on the other hand, Weinberger merely said some really nasty, mean spirited, offensive stuff about police and, as a result, they merely felt harassed, then he has done nothing legally wrong. He has the right to say mean stuff.

This case comes down to what exactly he said. If he’s convicted, I’m confident that the appellate courts will look at decades of precedent cases for guidance to determine whether what he said crossed the line. As far as the guns go, it appears that he was properly licensed to carry the firearms. Normally, he’d have the right to possess those weapons. However, as a condition of a person’s bond, a judge has the right to order that they not possess weapons. In this case, that was probably a wise decision.