A Wisconsin inmate who threatened a Waukesha County judge by writing on the grout between the cement blocks in his cell had his conviction upheld by an appeals court yesterday.
A State statute makes it a felony to "intentionally ... threaten to cause bodily harm to the person ... of any judge." Wisconsin case law further defines what constitutes a "true threat."
The First Amendment does not protect those sorts of things.
During a random search of the cell, an officer found "Joe Ridley will fuck and kill" the judge, who had sentenced Ridley to 60 days on an earlier offense. The slogan was written in pencil and signed and dated a week before its discovery.
Ridley was found guilty by a jury and convicted, and appealed the conviction by arguing that he had not made a "true threat," but merely a "hyperbolic emotional outburst," because hyperbole is one of the exemptions from the case law's definition of "true threat."
But the appeals court declined to revisit the legal question of whether Ridley's inscription was a true threat or hyperbole, and instead reviewed the factual question of whether the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's finding of guilt.
Ridley claimed that the evidence was insufficient to show that he intended to communicate the threat to the judge, but the appeals court concluded that Ridley should have known the inscription would be discovered during random cell searches, and that such revelations would eventually make their way to the judge.
That seems a little weak intent-wise to me, but at the same time probably not an unreasonable set of inferences for a jury to draw, as the court of appeals ultimately held. Besides, threatening a judge is a pretty serious business, especially given recent history.
Although Tom DeLay seems to have gotten away with it.
State v. Ridley (.pdf; 6 pgs.)