Minnesota’s true-threat law, which includes a ban on threats made recklessly, does not violate the First Amendment, the state supreme court ruled. The court issued the ruling in the case of a woman who was charged under the law after sending a letter to personnel in the St. Louis County Children’s Protection Services.
In January 2017, Chris Mrozinski slid an envelope under the door of the intervention unit of Children’s Protection Services with “MISS ME YET?” written on the outside. It also contained four toe tags, similar to those used to identify bodies in a morgue. The toe tags included CPS employee names, date of death, and place of death. The letter read in part:
“MY CHILDREN WILL BE 16 SOMEDAY, AND YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO DO S— ABOUT IT. CHILDHOOD IS NOT FOREEVER. DEATH, ON THE OTHER HAND, IS. SLEEP TIGHT, BITCHES!
“(PERHAPS I SHOULD SAY … SLEEEP WITH ONE EYE OPEN?)”
Mrozinski sent this letter because she was upset over losing custody of her children. Three of the four persons identified said they believed that Mrozinski was capable of carrying out her threats.
Authorities charged Mrozinski with four counts of threat of violence. The state law provides that it is unlawful to “threaten, directly or indirectly, to commit any crime of violence with purpose to terrorize another … or in a reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror.”
Mrozinski filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the anti-threat law was unconstitutionally overbroad. A state district court denied the motion to dismiss and found Mrozinski guilty on four counts. The court sentenced her to one year in jail, but stayed the sentence and placed her on unsupervised probation for one year. The state court of appeals affirmed the lower court in February 2021.
Mrozinski filed a petition for review to the Minnesota Supreme Court, maintaining that the part of the law criminalizing threats recklessly made violated the First Amendment.
The state high court upheld the anti-threat law in its March 9, 2022, decision in State v. Mrozinski. Justice Margaret H. Chutich, writing for the majority, determined that “a reckless state of mind is sufficient for a defendant’s violent communication to be a true threat excluded from the protection of the First Amendment.”
Chutich also reasoned that the law was not substantially overbroad and did not punish protected speech. She wrote that the law applied to comments that create a “substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing extreme fear by use of violent threats.”
Justice Paul C. Thissen wrote a dissenting opinion. He reasoned that a defendant should not be convicted under an anti-threat law unless the defendant had the requisite intent and purpose to engender fear in listeners.
“Speech made without proof of such a specific intent or purpose is not a true threat and so constitutes protected speech,” he wrote.
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David L. Hudson Jr. is a professor at Belmont University College of Law who writes and speaks regularly on First Amendment issues. He is the author of Let the Students Speak: A History of the Fight for Free Expression in American Schools (Beacon Press, 2011), and of First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (2012). Hudson is also the author of a 12-part lecture series, Freedom of Speech: Understanding the First Amendment (2018), and a 24-part lecture series, The American Constitution 101 (2019).