Illinois Appellate Court found guilty of threatening a judge

from Humans vs. RoachesAs decided by the Illinois Appellate Court on Thursday (opinion by Justice Robert Stigman, joined by Justices Peter Kavanagh and James Netchett):

In a November 2020 interview with the defendant at the Winnebago County Jail, the defendant said [his lawyer,] Brown, “When I leave here, I’m going to get that judge” [referring to Judge McGraw -EV]. “That sounds like a threat,” Brown responded. Accused said, I don’t threaten, I promise. Brown testified that the defendant was somewhat agitated and that Brown took the defendant’s statement seriously “based on all the facts. [Braun] was at that time.”

Brown alerted the judge to the threat, which led to the defendant being tried for it and ultimately convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. During the investigation, a detective interviewed the defendant on video:

During the first 25 minutes of the video, the defendant denies threatening McGrath. At about the 25-minute mark of the video, the detectives leave the interview room and the defendant begins talking to the camera. Defendant McGraw vented his anger at trial counsel and the police through expletive-laden, violent statements, briefly asserting that he was not a threat to anyone. Defendant’s comments to the camera continued until Witt returned to the interview room, at which time defendant maintained to Witt that he had not threatened McGrath.

The appeals court reversed, concluding that the statements fell outside the First Amendment’s “true threat” exception, and thus were not covered by the state threat statute:

[N]Conspicuously absent from Brown’s testimony was any reference to violence, express or implied, by defendant. Brown’s only detailed description of the circumstances was in defendant’s isolated statements to Brown (1) “[w]hen I get out of here, I’m going to get that judge” and (2) “I don’t make threats[,] I promise.”) The defendant who made them was slightly agitated.

The State relied heavily on the video recording of Witt’s interview with defendant to explain the intent and meaning of defendant’s statements to Brown. The State asserts that in the interview, defendant explained what he meant when he told Brown he was going to get McGraw. However, that interview took place several months after defendant made the statement to Brown and after defendant was accused of threatening McGrath. Moreover, at no point during the interview did defendant clarify what his statements meant to Brown. Instead, defendant always maintained that he did not threaten McGrath.

In this Court’s earlier opinion die, educational. inside die, the defendant was meeting with the public defender when he became angry after receiving bad news regarding his case. Defendant then raised his voice, threatening to complain about the public defender to the trial judge and accusing him of “selling him out and working for the state.” After the public defender asked him to leave, defendant told him multiple times, “I’m going to get you,” pointing at him. He asked if she was threatening him, to which he replied, “No, no. I’m not threatening you.” A paralegal then “‘steps in between the two because of the path [the defendant] What stood out, his behavior, how aggressive he was with his speech, [and] His demeanor.’” The trial court found defendant guilty of threatening the public defender.

On appeal, this court reversed the defendant’s conviction, concluding that no reasonable trier of fact could have concluded that the defendant intended to physically threaten the public defender. In so holding, this Court emphasized the ambiguity of the phrase “I’m going to get you”—that is, the phrase did not imply a threat of violence. Instead, the court noted, “[T]He may be the victim of a prank or a victim of Machiavellian office politics and say to the offender, ‘I’ll get you for this’, without intending that the retribution will be physical. The Internal Revenue Service will get you if you lie on your income tax return Accordingly, this Court held that the statement “I’m going to get you” was too vague and ambiguous to amount to a threat of violence.

However, the defendant’s statement in the present case, that he was going to “get” McGraw, is almost identical to the defendant’s statement. dieWe note that the evidence provides context for the threatening nature of the statement die was much stronger than the current case. Here, exactly die, the defendant’s statement was too vague to communicate anything of substance; Instead, we must infer from his statement exactly what defendant even threatened to do to McGraw. Without further context or additional clarifying statements, defendant’s statement does not rise to the level of a true threat….