January 2, 2019

A Cup of Joe | Creepy, Cryptic Phone Messages Gets Caller Jail Time

This week’s case finds us out on Long Island* and introduces us to James, a man who believed that the best way to talk things through a soured relationship was by leaving messages on the victim’s business voice mail. James was wrong.

James was agitated. He left two consecutive messages on the victim's business answering machine at about 10:45 p.m.


"I suggest you remove yourself from my life."

"Kiss your daughter good night tonight."

"Your day will be f--king coming motherf--er"

"You're gonna pay."

"You just watch what happens."



"You sleep tonight motherf—ers."

"You keep track of me motherf---ers."

"You keep track."

After listening to the messages the victim called 911. James was arrested for aggravated harassment in the second degree. James would be guilty of aggravated harassment if, with intent to harass the victim, he communicated by telephone a threat to, among other things, cause physical harm to the victim.

The First Amendment provides us with the right to free  speech. The government cannot criminalize threats that are not "true threats." Who decides whether language is a true threat? A jury. If the accused does not want a jury then a judge makes that determination. Here was the question that had to be answered for James: Did the messages that James left on the business voicemail constitute a true threat of physical harm?

James argued that the evidence was not legally sufficient to prove that he made a threat of physical harm. The court disagreed James was found guilty and sentenced to 8 months in jail.

[* Is it ON Long Island or IN Long Island? “They live on City Island, on Shelter Island, on Glen Island.” Right? Island groups get IN: in the Virgin Islands. Manhattan gets IN because people are usually referring to the borough. I picked ON because growing up, the dialogue went something like… “I’ll be out in CI this weekend.” “Yeah? Where’s that?” “On Long Island.” Your comments are welcome].

And here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2018/2018_51862.htm

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