Focus: “Freedom of speech” on the wall, responding to Trump threats with law revisions | Reuters

[Reuters]-The Vermont State Parliament in the United States is discussing a bill to facilitate the prosecution of those who threatened election officials. Maine has also submitted legislation to increase punishment for such threats. This month, Washington passed a bill in the Senate that criminalized threats to election officials.

On January 24, the Vermont State Assembly in the United States is discussing a bill to facilitate the prosecution of those who threatened election officials. Taken 15th in Florence, Arizona (2022 Reuters / Carlos Barria)

In Reuters, a series of investigative journalism reports that his supporters, who have truly received the allegations of unfounded “illegal voting” by former President Trump, are threatening and harassing election authorities nationwide. I told you in. In the three states mentioned above, Reuters articles were cited by bill submitters and supporters as one of the triggers for stronger legal restraints.

Washington Senator David Froct, a Democrat, said the press “provided more evidence” increased support for a bill to hold those threatening election clerks accountable. talk.

In Maine, a bill drafted by Congressman Bruce White (Democratic Party) will result in heavier punishment for those who “intentionally obstruct (election affairs) using coercion, violence, and intimidation.” Will be imposed.

The state’s Secretary of State, Sienna Bellows, said two city officials in the state had been threatened with violence and said, “This is unacceptable.”

Reuters reported a total of more than 850 threats and hostile messages to US election officials and workers. Almost every message reiterated Mr. Trump’s unfounded claim that the 2020 presidential election was defeated by fraudulent elections. According to law professors and lawyers who read these threatening messages, there are more than 100 criminal charges by federal standards.

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Intimidators are rarely prosecuted. However, the US Ministry of Justice’s Election Office Threatening Issue Task Force announced on the 21st that it had indicted a man living in Texas for the first time on suspicion of posting a threatening statement to three Georgian election managers online. One assistant attorney said the Task Force is investigating “dozens” of other cases.

In Vermont, a threatening voicemail was sent to Secretary of State Jim Condos and his staff, and police and prosecutors decided not to prosecute, so lawmakers set strong protection on free speech. He started to reconsider the state law. The two legislative measures submitted this month will make it easier and more punishable to prosecute suspected criminal intimidation if civil servants are targeted.

The first hostile message from an unidentified man to Secretary of State Condos’ office came shortly after the 2020 elections. The man then sent a threatening voicemail in the fall of 2021 to Mr. Condos, his staff, and two Reuters reporters who interviewed the man about the previous threat.

The man warned in an October message that “the time of justice has come.” “Even though I’m shit, I’ll blow my head off right away. Certainly.”

In an interview, Condors said the threatening man would not be held liable under state law. Police and prosecutors have already examined the sender’s past messages and determined that they would be protected under the freedom of speech.

Disappointed, Mr. Condos sent a letter to six members of the state legislature, urging them to adjust state law to be more consistent with federal law and to consider legislative measures that would establish clearer prosecution standards.

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Federal officials have determined that these threats are serious and worthy of investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has begun investigating the matter after Reuters asked Vermont officials about the threat in October, according to two Vermont law enforcement officials.

Condos said the email he sent to lawmakers was concerned that threatening acts could escalate to violence. “It’s also a sign of what we’re in, and an understanding of what we have to do,” he said.

Bills submitted in states such as Vermont do not change the protection of freedom of speech that the US Constitution guarantees to all Americans. Proponents of the Vermont bill have stated that its legislative intent is to align state law with federal standards and facilitate the prosecution of violent threats.

The bill drafted in Vermont clarifies the definition of criminal intimidation and eliminates multiple hurdles to prosecution, including requirements to limit specific individual intimidation and intimidation. The obligation to prove that the suspect possesses the means and ability to commit violence is eased. Another measure would be to impose heavier punishment for threatening civil servants.

“It doesn’t undermine our freedom,” said Laurie Tibaud, a lawyer in the state who advised lawmakers in drafting the bill.

In Vermont, this balance is a delicate matter. After all, the state has a history of codifying the protection of widespread free speech nearly 250 years ago, more than 10 years before the US Constitution was enacted.

In 1777, the Republic of Vermont, which became independent of the United Kingdom, enacted a constitution that guarantees “freedom of speech and the right to publish opinions in writing.” This wording still remains in the state’s constitution. In 1798, state-elected congressman Matthew Lyon was re-elected while being imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Act for criticizing President John Adams.

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A few years ago, the Vermont Legislature attempted to amend state legislation to facilitate the prosecution of criminal intimidation, but was abandoned due to concerns that it could violate freedom of speech. But as in other states, there is tension over the tradition of freedom of speech as it deals with violent anti-government sentiment, white nationalism and political radicalism.

In 2018, the Vermont Supreme Court acquitted Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members of the two cases of disturbing peace. Defendants had KKK-supported villas affixed to the cars of two women (black and Hispanic). The Supreme Court of the State has ruled that Villa is a speech protected under Vermont law.

Last year, the town of Bennington, Vermont, apologized for the police’s inadequate response to the racist harassment that a black member of the State Assembly, Kear Morris, received from a self-proclaimed white nationalist, for $ 137,500. I paid 15.75 million yen). He resigned in 2018.

So far, public opposition to legislative measures regarding criminal intimidation has been unremarkable. However, the proponents expect the situation to change once the hearing begins. The Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said it was “watching the bill,” but has yet to say its pros and cons.

Senator Richard Sears of Vermont (Democratic Party), who chairs the Legislature Committee of the State Legislature, plans to hold a hearing on the bill this month. He said that even if the bill is passed, there is no guarantee that the threatening person will be imprisoned, he said.

“But we know that without these revisions, nothing could change.”

(Translation: Acrelen)

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