A California man who cursed at his older neighbors had his threat convictions upheld by a state appeals court.
In an unspecified city in Riverside County in September 2022, a woman in her 70s named Sonja was walking her 20-pound dog by the house of her neighbor, Paul Hupp. He was holding one of his dogs and there were four other pit bulls around Hupp. Sonja remarked to Hupp that she hoped he had control over the dogs. Hupp responded, “F— you, bitch.” He then screamed other obscenities at her.
Another neighbor named Leilani witnessed the exchange and warned Hupp that he was violating the homeowners’ association rules by having that many dogs. He allegedly cursed and threatened her.
The next day, Hupp encountered Sonja’s husband, Earl, and cursed and pushed him down. Allegedly, Hupp threatened to kill both the husband and wife.
Prosecutors charged Hupp with making threats against the three victims and for elder abuse against Earl. A jury deadlocked on the threat charge against one of the women but found Hupp guilty of threatening both the elderly husband and wife. The court sentenced Hupp to four years in prison.
On appeal, Hupp’s attorney argued that the jury instructions in the case did not rise to the level necessary to meet the U.S. Supreme Court’s requirement in its 2023 true-threat decision Counterman v. Colorado.
In that decision, the Court held that prosecutors must be able to establish that a defendant made a threat either intentionally or recklessly.
“Having reviewed the parties’ briefs, we agree with the People that the jury instructions exceeded the constitutional requirement articulated in Counterman because they required proof that Hupp intended his statements be taken as threats,” the appeals court wrote in its Oct. 25, 2023, decision in People v. Hupp.
“Because willfulness is a more culpable mental state than recklessness, we reject Hupp’s claim that his criminal threats and attempted criminal threats convictions violate the First Amendment.”
David L. Hudson Jr. teaches First Amendment law and constitutional law classes at Belmont University College of Law. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of more than 50 books, including The Constitution Explained: A Guide for Every American (Visible Ink Press, 2022) and The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (Thomson Reuters, 2012).
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