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Illinois Court Upholds Disorderly Conduct Statute as Constitutional Regarding Online Threats Made Against a School

By November 14, 2018April 3rd, 2024News

On October 11, 2018, an Illinois appellate court in People v. Kahn upheld the conviction of a defendant for making internet threats against a school. Specifically, the defendant posted to Facebook: “I bring a gun to school every day. Someday someone is going to p*** me off and end up in a bag.” He was convicted of committing disorderly conduct by making a threat of violence against persons at a school. The statute reads that a person commits disorderly conduct when he or she “knowingly. . . [t]ransmits or causes to be transmitted a threat of violence, death, or bodily harm directed against persons at a school, school function, or school event, whether or not school is in session.” The defendant argued on appeal that the statute under which he was charged unconstitutionally criminalizes innocent conduct because it lacks a sufficient intent requirement. Specifically, he argued that the lower court should have applied the standard that a speaker have the necessary intent that the recipient of a threat feel threatened. However, the appellate court disagreed, and found that under Illinois precedent a speaker must only have knowledge that his or her threat could be construed as a threat.

The Illinois appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision that the disorderly conduct provision is constitutional on its face because it does not punish protected conduct in that it only applies to “true threats,” which under Supreme Court precedent are not protected First Amendment speech. Further, the court reasoned that it requires the state to prove that the defendant knew he was transmitting a true threat. Specifically, the court reasoned that under Illinois precedent, a speaker need only have knowledge that his or her communication is a “true threat” rather than having the intent to threaten. The court reasoned that “[r]equiring knowledge and limiting criminal actions to the making of true threats limits the provision to the knowing performance of an act that is not innocent.”

Further, the defendant argued that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because his internet statement was too ambiguous for the jury to interpret as a true threat. The appellate court disagreed, finding that it was reasonable for a jury to conclude that the defendant knew that his Facebook post was an expression of an intent to do harm. Further, the court found it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that the post would cause a reasonable recipient to fear violence in the community, and that the jury was not required to “ignore common sense” and conjure up “ridiculous” other possible meanings of the defendant’s Facebook post. Therefore, the court upheld the defendant’s conviction for disorderly conduct for making an internet threat against a school.