Texas teen could get 10 years in prison for Facebook post

Not everyone likes or understands
sarcasm, but you’d be hard pressed to
find many people who think it warrants a
jail sentence.
Justin Carter, 19, certainly didn't think the
sarcastic remarks he made in an online
gaming forum on Facebook earlier this
year would land him behind bars, but
that's what happened.
Listen to the Day 6 interview with
Jennifer Carter and Scott Burns.
The Texas teenager, who was 18 at the
time of the posting, was arguing with
another player of the video game League
of Legends, when someone goaded him,
saying he was "messed in the head."
Carter sarcastically retorted that he was
crazy, alright, and then wrote:
"I think Ima (short for "I'm going to")
shoot up a kindergarten / And watch the
blood of the innocent rain down / And
eat the beating heart of one of them."
Carter then added "j/k" and "lol," internet
and text-message speak for "just kidding"
and "laugh out loud."
His comments were ill-timed, coming only
two months after the mass shootings at a
school in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26
people.
At least one person who read them didn't
find them funny. A woman in Canada who
saw the post reported Carter's remarks to
police in Austin, Texas.
No weapons found in
home
Police officers showed up at Carter's
place of work on February 14, soon after
the comments appeared, and arrested the
teen, who lives in New Braunfels, a town
in south-central Texas.
According to his mother, Jennifer Carter,
police did not question Justin until several
weeks later, and when they searched his
home, did not find any weapons or
evidence that he had any intent to carry
out the actions he described online. They
seized only his computer.
In April, Carter was officially charged with
"communicating a terroristic threat." If
convicted, Justin could face a prison term
of up to 10 years. He had remained in jail
since his arrest because his family was
unable to pay the $500,000 bail set by
the court, but on Thursday, an
anonymous individual stepped forward to
pay the bond.
Earlier, Jennifer had told Day 6 guest host
Rachel Giese that her son had been held
in solitary confinement because he had
been assaulted repeatedly by fellow
inmates and had trouble adjusting to
prison life.
"He was very depressed and didn't think
he'd be able to survive," she told Day 6
from Orlando, Fla., where she is currenlty
living.
In a follow-up interview on Friday, after
Justin's release, Day 6 reconnected with
Jennifer, who described the moment her
son stepped out of his cell as "one of the
happiest moments" she has had in a long
time.
Sarcastic tone not
evident to all
Justin is currently awaiting trial, and his
mother hopes that when the case
eventually does go to court, the jury will
see her son's comments for what they
were: the sarcastic, stupid trash talk of a
kid.
"It's hard for me to believe that 12 jurors
could look at the evidence, which is just
his statement, and think that he had the
intent to cause harm or that he was
capable of causing the harm that he was
threatening," she said.
Jennifer says teens like her son who are
used to chatting and joking with friends
online assume that everyone who reads
their posts is familiar with the way they
speak and their personalities and can tell
when they are joking.
She knows her son's characteristic
intonations well and is familiar with his
sarcastic manner of speaking so it's easy
for her to imagine the tone in which the
Facebook comments were meant, but that
wouldn't have been the case for everyone
who read them.
"A lot of times, I don't think that
teenagers comprehend that anyone can
find that kind of thing on the internet and
that other people aren't going to know
who you are," she said.
Free speech limits
For attorney Scott Burns, executive
director of the National District Attorneys'
Association in San Diego, casual threats of
violence made online, whatever their
intended tone, are no laughing matter.
"A lot of people thought Dylan Klebold,
prior to Columbine (school shootings),
was joking, and nobody told authorities,
nobody told any administrators at the
school, and we all know how that turned
out," he told Day 6 .
Although he wouldn't comment on the
Carter case specifically, Burns said he is
convinced police are justified in jailing
someone for what they say even if they
haven't done anything to indicate they
plan to act on their threats.
"We can't take the risk of getting it
wrong," he said.
"I still don't know why when people hit
'send,' they don't think it's going to lead
to others questioning what it is they said
in their threats. It will, and it does."
The First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution protects free speech, but
there are limits to this protection, Burns
said.
"One of the things that is not protected is
threatening to kill a number of people,"
he said.
He doesn't see the kind of comments
made by Justin Carter and some of the
other individuals recently arrested for
similar online remarks as entirely
harmless.
"I think something is horribly wrong when
somebody gets on Facebook and says,
'I'm going to kill a bunch of people',"
Burns said.
But many people do think the police have
overstepped in Justin's case, and tens of
thousands have signed a petition started
by his mother calling for the charge
against her son to be dropped and for the
law governing what constitutes a
terroristic threat to be changed.