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U.S. top court to hear appeal of conviction for online threats

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether a man convicted of making threatening statements to his estranged wife and others on social media should have avoided prosecution.

The court will weigh an appeal filed by Anthony Elonis, who posted a series of statements on Facebook in 2010 soon after his wife, Tara Elonis, left him. Among the posts were some threatening references to his wife that prompted her to obtain a restraining order.

Elonis was charged with violating a federal law that outlaws sending a threatening communication. He failed to have the indictment dismissed on the grounds the government could not show intent to make a threatening statement.

He was convicted on four of five counts and sentenced to 44 months in prison. In June 2013, the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction.

The Supreme Court will resolve splits among lower courts over what prosecutors need to prove to secure a conviction. Some courts have said that proof is required of the defendant’s intent to threaten. Others have found prosecutors need only show that a reasonable person would find the statement to be a threat.

Oral arguments and a decision are expected in the court’s next term, which begins in October and ends in June 2015. The case is Elonis v. USA, U.S. Supreme Court, 13-983.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham and Grant McCool)

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