The Volokh Conspiracy

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"Putting my loft up for ridiculous 'Boston-only' rate on @airbnb for the #WorldSeries. Pressure cooker sold separately."


That's what Robert Metzinger tweeted before and during the St. Louis-Boston World Series, together with these three other items:

Going to be tailgating with a #PressureCooker during games 3-4-5 in #STL during #WorldSeries. #STLStrong #GoCards #postseason from Springfield, MO.

The #WorldSeries will be another finish line not crossed by #Boston.

Listening to the Offspring's "Bad Habit" and the lyrics just ring true of what will go down very soon.

The court notes that "The Song referenced in the last message contains lyrics about violence, with repeated mentions of 'blowin' away.'" Metzinger was prosecuted on the theory that these were true threats of a terrorist attack, but the trial court dismissed, and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed on Tuesday:

[T]he language of the tweets at issue demonstrated on their face that they were not serious expressions of an intent to cause injury to another…. Defendant's tweets facially reveal that they were made in the context of sports rivalry, an area often subject to impassioned language and hyperbole. While Defendant's references to pressure cookers and allusions to the Boston Marathon bombing were tasteless and offensive, the context of his tweets was such that a reasonable recipient would not interpret them as serious expressions of an intent to commit violence….

Defendant's tweets are distinguishable from the threats in [two prior cases] because the State established without dispute at the hearing that they were made in the context of sports rivalry and in the spirit of "trash talking." Nothing in Defendant's tweets credibly suggested, either directly or indirectly, that Defendant was threatening violent acts that were likely to occur.

We conclude that the trial court properly considered the language of the four tweets and, under the rather unique circumstances of this case, correctly determined, as a matter of law, that the four tweets did not constitute "true threats" and, therefore, were improperly criminalized.

Thanks to Eric Goldman (Technology & Marketing Law Blog) for the pointer.