The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
I blogged about this when Juan Thompson was first arrested in March, partly because threats against Jewish institutions were so much in the news then, and partly because you don't expect them to come from former employees at prominent journalism sites (here, The Intercept); I therefore thought I'd post this follow-up in the wake of today's sentencing. The judge sentenced Thompson to five years in prison, which was above the recommended Sentencing Guidelines sentence—here's the judge's explanation:
Defendant embarked on a campaign of psychological torture against Victim-1. It was not a one-time error of judgment but a sustained campaign over months that did not stop until he was arrested. Defendant was an intelligent, well-educated individual (Bachelor's Degree from Vassar) who knew and appreciated the nature and consequences of his acts and why they were wrong. He harassed Victim-1, her employer and her co-workers. He spread false information that she had been pulled over for driving while intoxicated, was being sued for transmitting a sexually transmitted disease, had threatened to kill him, had confessed to regularly viewing child-pornography (this was reported by defendant to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), and had made anti-Semitic connnents. Defendant made false accusations about Victim-1 to the NYPD, ATP and New York State Office of Professions.
Defendant escalated his actions by sending bomb threats and other threats to, among others, Jewish community centers, schools or institutions across the country, including the offices of the Anti-Defamation League in Manhattan, two schools in Manhattan, The Center for Jewish History in Manhattan, a community center in San Diego and a school in Farmington Hills, MI. The defendant's purpose, in the main, was either to implicate Victim-1 as the source of the threats or to accuse Victim-1 of falsely accusing him of the threats. These threats caused terror and fear on the part of the recipients. They also diverted the attention of law enforcement and the organizations who had no choice but to treat the threats as real.
The Court considered defendant's difficult upbringing, including his mother's crack addiction and his father's absence and troubles with law enforcement. He is 32 and has no prior convictions. The Court also considered his alcoholism which was a contributing factor to his crimes. A forensic psychologist retained by the defendant's counsel observed symptoms of anxiety, depression and personality disorder but "[b]ased on the information provided for this evaluation, Mr. Thompson does not meet the criteria for a severe mental illness." He rated the risk for future violence as "moderate," "with a low risk for severe violence and a low risk of imminent violence." …
There is a need for just punishment in this case because the harm to Victim-1 was direct and severe. The harm to the organizations receiving bomb or other threats was also direct and serious. There is a need to protect the public from further crimes of this defendant. With a "moderate" risk of future violence, he is in danger of reoffending. There is an important need to deter others from similar conduct. Cyberstalking of this extreme form can destroy a person's ability to function, to work and to live a normal life. Bomb threats are a harm to society, to law enforcement and to the organizations receiving the threats. They disrupt the public order. They are often difficult to detect and when uncovered they are in need of being deterred….
Note that, while I often criticize "cyberstalking" prosecutions based on otherwise protected speech, the speech that the judge points to here apparently consists either of unprotected true threats of violence or unprotected knowingly false statements of fact.
UPDATE: Here's a CBS News story on the case.