The proliferation of computers, smartphones and tablets has caused an explosion in the use people make of social media. Use of the Internet to share information with friends and acquaintances has vastly improved the ways in which people can communicate with each other. Unfortunately, social media has also given rise to Internet crime in the form of computer fraud, cyber terrorism, identity theft and cyber bullying.

A federal investigation into the activities of one Facebook user that resulted in criminal charges and a trial recently drew the attention of the United States Supreme Court. The criminal case focused on threats a man was alleged to have made against his wife and several other people and groups by posting violent lyrics from a rap song on Facebook.

The criminal defense strategy offered at the trial was that the federal statute under which the defendant was charged required prosecutors to prove the intent to make a threat. The trial judge took the position that the context or circumstances under which the allegedly threatening statements were made was sufficient without a showing of actual intent.

Although an intermediate appellate court agreed with the trial judge and refused to overturn the conviction and penalties, the Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the conviction. The Court ruled that even though the cybercrime did not include a provision making proof of intent a requirement, a conviction of a violation of a criminal law must be based upon proof that the defendant intended the wrongdoing for which he or she is charged.

People frequently forget that social media, email and the Internet are relatively recent developments. It might come as a surprise to many that this case is the first one from the Supreme Court pertaining to social media. If you have been charged with a computer or Internet-based crime, having your criminal defense handled by attorneys with experience representing clients facing such complex criminal charges is essential.

Source: The National Law Review,”Supreme Court Limits criminal Law’s Reach to Social Media Posts; Avoids First Amendment Issue,” June 8. 2015