U.S. v. Jeffries: Be Cautious of How You Express Frustration

A divorce and subsequent fight for child custody can be two of the most trying things you may ever endure. Many people liken it to dealing with a death. guitareye.jpg

Indiana child custody lawyers know it is the end of whatever dream you may have had for a future with you and your spouse together. Plus, you feel as if you’re losing your whole family. It’s understandable that mounting frustrations can bubble over, and that’s often where it gets ugly.

Having an experienced attorney, of course, is the best thing you can do to protect your rights and to try and eliminate as much of the unnecessary emotion as possible from the equation.

But you have to be careful of how you express those negative emotions. Whether it’s a nasty e-mail to your ex, a post on Facebook or, in this case, a song on YouTube that includes threats against the judge, it can sometimes jeopardize the merits of your divorce case or child custody dispute. It may even result in criminal charges, as it did in U.S. v. Jeffries, recently reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

This was a case out of Tennessee, and although divorce and child custody laws vary significantly from state-to-state, the basic concept is relevant anywhere in the country.

In this case, the man was embroiled in a bitter custody battle for his young daughter. He had been actively seeking greater visitation time with his daughter. In his frustration, he penned a song detailing his emotions. Half of the song talked about relationships between fathers and daughters and the importance of spending time together. Conversely, the rest of the song is a litany of complaints about the legal system, his ex-wife – and the judge. With regard to the latter, the amateur musician threatens in his song to kill the judge if he does not grant him greater custody rights.

The man performed the song, complete with acoustic guitar, and posted a video rendition on YouTube.

It includes such lines as, “I guarantee you, if you don’t stop, I’ll kill you,” and, “If I have to kill a judge or a lawyer or a woman I don’t care.”

This was several days before a re-hearing on his visitation rights. He uploaded the video and shared it with several friends and family members. He dedicated the song to the judge. The video was also shared with a state representative, a local television station and a fathers’ advocacy group.

He tried to take it down 24 hours later, but by that point, it had been forwarded multiple times, including to his ex-wife, who then forwarded it to the judge.

Law enforcement viewed the video, and the case was forwarded to federal prosecutors, who charged him with violating 18. U.S.C. 875 (c), which prohibits transmission in interstate commerce of any communication that contains a threat to injure another person.

By law, the threat must be “objectively real” in that a reasonable person could have concluded that the threat was true. Regardless of his intent, the question before the jury was whether a reasonable person could have perceived a potential for a viable threat. His defense attorneys argued that he meant no actual harm to the judge.

Ultimately, both the trial court and later the appeals court determined that the threats were objectively true. A conviction on this charge carries a maximum penalty of up to two years in federal prison.

What’s more, as a convicted felon, this father may have lost any chances at increased or sustained visitation.

It’s a sad case, but the lesson here is critical: If you need help working through this incredibly stressful time – seek it in the form of counseling. Let us take care of the rest. And keep your life out of social media until your case concludes.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary, Hammond and Calumet City. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:
U.S. v. Jeffries, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit