A 19-year-old New Braunfels man has been in jail since February and is facing eight years in prison for making a joke on Facebook that he admits was “terrible, mean and downright stupid.”
Justin R. Carter was playing League of Legends on Feb. 13 and got into an argument that carried over to Facebook.
His mother, Jennifer Carter, says that “someone on Facebook called him crazy and messed up in the head. So he responded in a sarcastic tone by saying something along the lines of ‘Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head, I’m going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts,’ which was followed by saying JK (just kidding) and LOL (laughing out loud).”
A warrant by the Austin Police Department gives a more graphic version of the quotation.
A woman in Canada saw the post, looked up Carter’s address, and notified the Austin Police Department, which investigated with the New Braunfels police.
Police searched Carter’s home and found no weapons. That’s when the investigation should have ended, according to Carter’s attorney, Donald Flanary III, who is taking the case pro bono.
“Teens these days trash-talk in their Internet gaming communities. He wasn’t threatening any individuals. The context of the comment is sarcastic,” Flanary told a reporter.
Carter was indicted by a Comal County grand jury in April on a third-degree felony charge of making a terroristic threat.
Two Texas attorneys who specialize in terroristic threats, Mario Madrid and David E. Cook, write that a conviction on the charge requires proof that the defendant had the intent to instill fear in someone. In other words, you have to be threatening someone, not making idle noise.
Carter’s court-appointed attorney made the same point: “They can’t prove intent.”
Carter’s remark wasn’t directed at anyone, a factor that has First Amendment advocates furious with local authorities.
“In free countries such as the United States, one is permitted to be a fool,” writes Charles C. W. Cooke. “The keystone of our virtuous departure from the damnable norms of human history is the axiom, so memorably put by Chesterton, that ‘to have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.’ Americans may scream racial epithets, attack others’ deeply held beliefs, and communicate whatever vile and cretinous things pop into their heads. And they may do this not because they are ‘allowed to’ by a state that grants privilege but because the state has never been granted the permission to intervene.”
The case started gaining attention during the past two days, getting coverage by CNN and ranking among the most viewed on several state newspapers’ web sites.
The comments across the sites have been strongly in Carter’s favor, along the lines of this one posted under the name of SantaFeJack: “I have been a law and order guy my whole 69 years, but this case makes me ashamed of my country. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, this whole case is an outrage to clear-thinking citizens.”
The authorities responsible for Carter’s imprisonment are the Austin and New Braunfels police department, an inexperienced district attorney, and a judge who has been reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Jennifer Tharp was elected district attorney of Comal County after just six years as a prosecutor, much of that time spent on juvenile and civil cases. She had no opponent in the Republican party or the general election.
District Judge Jack Robison, a former cop, was rebuked by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2011 after he “exceeded the scope of his authority and failed to comply with the law” by jailing a man who called him a fool in a restroom.
Carter will get a bond hearing on July 16, but Robison was the judge who already doubled his bond in April.
The family has said they can’t afford to pay even the 10 percent to cover a bond.
Published with permission from Watchdog.org.
Contact Jon Cassidy at [email protected] or @jpcassidy000.
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