Home » News » Appeals Court upholds Arizona’s anti-threat law

By David L. Hudson Jr., published on June 25, 2018

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The Arizona Court of Appeals recently upheld the state's anti-threat law, saying it does not violate the First Amendment. (Photo of Arizona welcome sign by Wing-Chi Poon CC BY -SA 2.5)

An Arizona anti-threat law does not violate the First Amendment, a state appeals court has ruled. Furthermore, the court ruled that a defendant can be convicted for violating the law even if he or she does not intend to cause fear.

The case in Scottsdale arose when Casey Brandon Sibley became upset when the concierge at his condominium complex told him he needed to move his vehicle because it was illegally parked. Sibley responded that he was “gonna shoot those bitches in the HOA” if his car was towed.

Employees at the complex, fearful of Sibley’s language, contacted the police and he was arrested for violating an Arizona anti-threat law that provides: “[a] person commits threatening or intimidating if the person threatens or intimidates by word or conduct … [t]o cause physical injury to another person.”

A municipal court judge found Sibley guilty of violating the anti-threat law and placed him on 11 months of unsupervised probation. A superior court affirmed. Sibley then appealed to the court of appeals.

The appeals court also affirmed Sibley’s conviction in its May 31, 2018 decision in State v. Sibley. The appeals court rejected Sibley’s argument that the law was facially unconstitutional. The appeals court relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Virginia v. Black (2003) – in which the High Court upheld the bulk of a Virginia cross-burning law as a form of a true threat.

In Black, the Supreme Court wrote:

“[T]rue threats” … encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. The speaker need not actually intend to carry out the threat. Rather, a prohibition on true threats protects individuals from the fear of violence and from the disruption that fear engenders, as well as from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur.

Sibley argued that the Black case stands for the proposition that only intentional threats can be punished consistent with the First Amendment. The Arizona appeals court disagreed, writing: “Black did not hold the First Amendment forbids punishment of a threat made without proof of ‘wrongful intent.’ ”

Instead, the Arizona appeals court reasoned that a person can utter a threat that “a reasonable person would foresee would cause fear.” The prosecution doesn’t have to prove that the defendant intended to cause such fear.

The appeals court also rejected Sibley’s arguments that the anti-threat law was overbroad and vague.


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