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Jeffries v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

February 15, 2018




         Franklin Delano Jeffries, II (“Petitioner”) has filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside or correct his sentence, doc. 147.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2010, petitioner was embroiled in a bitter child custody/visitation dispute with the child's mother. Litigation was pending in the Chancery Court for Knox County which had been assigned to Chancellor Michael Moyers.

         Shortly before the trial date, petitioner created a YouTube video which he linked to his Facebook page in which he made various threats of violence, including death, directed at Chancellor Moyers. After those online threats were brought to the attention of the United States Attorney, petitioner was indicted by a federal grand jury for violating 18 U.S.C. § 875(c), transmitting in interstate commerce a threat to injure a person, viz., Chancellor Moyers.[1]

         During the trial, petitioner attempted to introduce evidence that he was only “blowing off steam, ” so to speak, and that he never intended to threaten the chancellor. He also asked that the court instruct the jury, in determining whether petitioner conveyed a “true threat, ” that it should first determine petitioner's subjective intent and that his utterances could not be a true threat if he did not seriously intend to inflict bodily harm or did not make the communication with the subjective intent to effect some change or achieve some goal through intimidation.[2] His efforts were rebuffed by this court because the law in the circuit at that time was that a violation of 18 U.S.C. §875(c) was complete if a reasonable person would perceive the utterances as a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily harm in order to effect some change or achieve some goal through intimidation, and that the defendant's subjective intent was irrelevant. United States v. DeAndino, 958 F.2d. 146, 148 (6th Cir. 1992); United States v. Alkhabaz, 104 F.3d. 1492, 1495 (6th Cir. 1997).

         Petitioner was convicted and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release.[3] Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that his subjective intent should be an element of a violation of §875(c) and, since it was not proven, his conviction should be overturned. In an opinion written by Judge Sutton and filed on August 28, 2012, the Sixth Circuit held that petitioner's utterances were objectively threatening, and under the authority of DeAndino and Alkhabaz, supra, his subjective intent in making those threats was irrelevant. His conviction accordingly was affirmed.[4] However, Judge Sutton appended a dubitante opinion in which he expressed serious doubt that DeAndino, Alkhabaz and similar cases from most other circuits, all holding that a defendant's subjective intent is irrelevant in determining whether a violation of §875(c) has occurred, were correctly decided.[5]

         Petitioner's application to the Supreme Court for the Writ of Certiorari was denied on October 9, 2013.[6]

         II. PETITIONER'S MOTION, Doc. 147

         On March 5, 2015, petitioner filed his § 2255 motion, asserting that since his conviction and affirmance thereof, the Supreme Court had granted certiorari in United States v. Elonis, 730 F.3d.321 (3rd Cir. 2013), a case in which the defendant had unsuccessfully argued before the Third Circuit that a conviction under § 875(c) required proof of his subjective intent in making the threat for which he was charged. Petitioner moved that his motion be held in abeyance until the Supreme Court decided Elonis, which this court granted.[7] At that time, petitioner was on supervised release.

         On June 1, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Elonis which reversed the Third Circuit, holding that a conviction under 875(c) required proof of the defendant's intent to transmit a true threat:

In light of the foregoing, Elonis's conviction cannot stand. The jury was instructed that the Government need prove only that a reasonable person would regard Elonis's communications as threats, and that was error. Federal criminal liability generally does not turn solely on the results of an act without considering the defendant's mental state. That understanding “took deep and early root in American soil” and Congress left it intact here: Under Section 875(c), “wrongdoing must be conscious to be criminal.” Morissette, 342 U.S., at 252, 72 S.Ct. 240.
There is no dispute that the mental state requirement in Section 875(c) is satisfied if the defendant transmits a communication for the purpose of issuing a threat, or with knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 25, 56. In response to a question at oral argument, Elonis stated that a finding of recklessness would not be sufficient. See id., at 8-9. Neither Elonis nor the Government has briefed or argued that point, and we accordingly decline to address it. See Department of Treasury, IRS v. FLRA, 494 U.S. 922, 933, 110 S.Ct. 1623, 108 L.Ed.2d 914 (1990) (this Court is “poorly situated” to address an argument the Court of Appeals did not consider, the parties did ...

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