Saturday, September 8, 2018

First Amendment Does Not Protect Threats Against Judge

A criminal conviction for threatening a judge has been affirmed by the Connecticut Supreme Court, which rejected a First Amendment defense to the charges

In the spring of 2014, Judge Bozzuto, who was responsible for managing the docket of the family court in Hartford, became involved in the defendant’s dissolution proceeding. Judge Bozzuto assumed sole responsibility for the management of the case in order to ensure that it would be adjudicated in a timely manner.

During the contentious divorce and custody matter the defendant 

in response to e-mails that he had received from Stevenson, Nowacki, and Jennifer Verraneault regarding the court motions, the defendant sent an e-mail containing threatening statements toward Judge Bozzuto to Stevenson, Nowacki, Susan Skipp, Sunny Kelley, Paul Boyne, and Verraneault, all of whom had been engaged with the defendant for some time in efforts to reform the family court system. Specifically, the defendant’s e-mail contained the following statements: (1) ‘‘[t]hey can steal my kids from my cold dead bleeding cordite filled fists . . . as my [sixty] round [magazine] falls to the floor and [I’m] dying as I change out to the next [thirty rounds]’’; (2) ‘‘[Bo]zzuto lives in [W]atertown with her boys and [n]anny . . . there [are] 245 [yards] between her master bedroom and a cemetery that provides cover and concealment’’; and (3) ‘‘a [.308 caliber rifle] at 250 [yards] with a double pane drops [one-half inch] per foot beyond the glass and loses [7 percent] of [foot pounds] of force [at] 250 [yards]—nonarmor piercing ball ammunition.

In response to the defendant’s e-mail, on the morning of August 23, 2014, Nowacki sent an e-mail to the defendant stating: ‘‘Ted, [t]here are disturbing comments made in this [e-mail]. You will be well served to NOT send such communications to anyone.’’ The defendant then sent another e-mail to Nowacki and Boyne in which he again suggested that he was contemplating violence against Judge Bozzuto and her family. 

Then

Verraneault sent a screenshot of the contents of the e-mail to an acquaintance who was an attorney, Linda Allard. After discussing the matter with Verraneault, Allard informed Judicial Branch officials and the state police about the e-mail and they, in turn, informed Judge Bozzuto.

Victim impact on the judge, who was recently profiled in the Connecticut Law Tribune. 

Judge Bozzuto testified at trial that, after she learned about the e-mail, ‘‘every night when I [got] home . . . as soon as . . . I pull[ed] up to the driveway and pull[ed] in . . . every time I [got] out of that car I look[ed] up on the hill in the back where all the brush and trees are and [thought] of only [the defendant]. . . . [T]hose bumps in the night, it’s when the dogs start[ed] barking in the middle of the night and the first thing that [came] to my mind [was the defendant].’’ As a result of the e-mail, she ‘‘did a massive upgrade of security at the house, installing cameras and lights.’’ Judge Bozzuto also provided her children’s school with a mug shot of the defendant and put school officials on alert. State police surveilled her house for a week or two after Judge Bozzuto learned about the e-mail, and judicial marshals escorted her from her office to her car in the evening. Judge Bozzuto also contacted a sister whose daughter was taking care of Judge Bozzuto’s dogs, and told her not to let her daughter go to Judge Bozzuto’s residence without a police escort.

He was arrested and sought dismissal of the threats in the first degree charges that ensued

The trial court found the defendant guilty of threatening in the first degree, two counts of disorderly conduct, and breach of the peace in the second degree. In its memorandum of decision, the trial court considered separately the questions of whether (1) the language of the defendant’s e-mail constituted a true threat that constitutionally could be punished, and (2) the defendant had knowingly disregarded the risk that the e-mail would cause Judge Bozzuto to be terrorized.

The court here rejected a contention that his subjective intent was dispositive and affirmed

We conclude...that § 53a-61aa (a) (3) is constitutional under the first amendment as applied to threatening speech directed at a private individual.

...we conclude that § 53a-61aa (a) (3) does not violate the free speech provisions of the state constitution because those provisions protect a broader range of threatening speech than does the first amendment.

No special speech protection for threats against a judge or other public official

We next address the defendant’s claim that threatening speech that is directed at a public official is subject to a higher standard than speech directed at a private individual under the free speech provisions of both the federal and state constitutions. We disagree with both claims.

...we conclude that the constitutional framers did not intend to protect the right to seek redress from a public official by way of a ‘‘remonstrance’’ when the speaker was aware that there was a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the public official would interpret the ‘‘remonstrance’’ as a serious threat of violence. We conclude, therefore, that § 53a-61aa (a) (3) is constitutional under the state constitution as it is applied to threatening speech directed at public officials.

The court also rejected evidentiary and sufficiency of evidence claims.

The defendant has defenders as reflected by this blog post and several posts linked here. 

The Hartford Courant reported on the conviction and on more recent charges

According to the arrest warrant affidavit for Taupier's arrest, alarming posts to Facebook were brought to the attention of staff at the Middletown courthouse in January. State police were notified and obtained information from Facebook about what Taupier allegedly posted.

Another post read, "Kill court employees and save the country," and others threatened police and threatened the judge who Taupier was convicted of threatening at his 2015 trial, according to the affidavit.

A Facebook page promotes his candidacy for Governor of Connecticut. (Mike Frisch)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2018/09/a-criminal-conviction-for-threatening-a-judge-has-been-affirmed-by-the-connecticut-supreme-court-which-rejected-a-first-amen.html

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