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Appeals court rules Calif. man can face criminal charge for threatening emails to McConnell

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell gives a press conference at Dare to Care food bank in Louisville on July 6, 2020.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell gives a press conference at Dare to Care food bank in Louisville on July 6, 2020.

A federal appeals court in Northern California said this week that a Bay Area man can face criminal charges over threatening emails he sent in 2018 to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

The three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that tossed out a criminal charge against Howard Weiss. 

Prosecutors alleged Weiss sent anonymous emails to McConnell with the “intent to abuse, threaten, or harass any specific person.” They submitted more than a dozen expletive-laden communications that allegedly came from Weiss’ IP address. 

“... the resistance is coming to DC to slash your throat. You will die in thestreet [sic] by DC resistance,” read part of one email. 

Weiss used fake names and addresses to pose as supposed Louisville residents in his emails, even though he lives in California. 

A U.S. District Court Judge ruled last year that the emails were protected speech under the First Amendment. The appeals court disagreed, saying the messages could constitute a “true threat” where a reasonable person could assume the sender would act on it. True threats are not protected speech.

Although Weiss’ emails referenced action by “the resistance,” he used email addresses that identified himself as part of this supposed group, the appeals court found.

“A reasonable jury could find that a ‘reasonable person’ in Weiss’s position would ‘foresee that [his October 2, 2018] statement would be interpreted by’ the statement’s recipient ‘as a serious expression of intent to harm or assault,’” the judges wrote in their opinion.

The three-judge panel sent the case back to the U.S. District Court and said a jury should decide whether Weiss’ emails crossed that line.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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