Army Sergeant Convicted Of Threatening A Judge Due To One Line In A Song

There is a very disturbing first amendment case this week in Knoxville, Tennessee where a federal jury convicted Army Sgt. Franklin Delano “Dale” Jeffries II of threatening Knox County Chancellor Michael W. Moyers. The threat came in a juvenile song that Jeffries posted — raising very serious concerns over free speech.

The jury only took two hours to convict Jeffries, 36, of transmitting a threat in interstate commerce because he put the song on the Internet. For the video, click here. Notably, Jeffries never sent the video to Moyers. Moreover, the song was only on the Internet for one day. Jeffries appears to have been convicted due to one line on one song posted for one day on the Internet. That song stated “Believe that, or I’ll come after you afterwards. If I have to kill a judge, or a lawyer, or a woman, I don’t care, because this is my daughter we’re talking about.” This line is repeated.

Jeffries was before Moyers in a visitation dispute over his daughter with his ex-wife. He could face five years in prison.

I believe the first amendment problems in this conviction undermines its basis. This is a nine-minute video of this soldier venting. If this can be treated as an interstate threat, my concern is that a wide array of speech can be criminalized. The video is disturbing and I can see why the judge felt threatened. However, it was briefly posted and the element of intent is difficult to establish. If allowed to stand, the conviction could become the foundation for attacks on free speech. Judges are public figures and criticism of their decisions is part of protected speech. We have seen increasing crackdowns on lawyers and laypersons for such criticism.

This is an important case to watch, in my view.

Source: Knox News and first seen on ABA Journal

Jonathan Turley

31 thoughts on “Army Sergeant Convicted Of Threatening A Judge Due To One Line In A Song”

  1. I share this guy’s frustrations with family court, and with ignorant biased family court judges shooting from the hip with a trump card of “best interests of the child.” I can’t stand judges OR lawyers!

    And while I greatly appreciate Professor Turley’s zealous advocacy of the first amendment, I have to admit if that guy’s threat was about me, I’d be convinced that he could and would pull it off.

    I actually agree with much of what he says, including his calls for violence. But that’s just like how I’d be happy to personally kill many of the people I see charged with crimes (much less convicted), and yet I am very happy and glad to be anti-death penalty.

    If that makes any sense….

    About one minute before the end, I thought the was going to redeem himself and let us know he was speaking rhetorically, but nope he didn’t do that.

    So I think he gives anyone interested in fathers rights, and family court reform a very bad image, just as I find Professor Turley’s concerns about the first amendment ramifications of this interesting.

  2. The feds should prosecute everyone who engages in Witness Intimidation:

    “Hall & Evans LLC …seeking an order of this Court requiring Plaintiffs to show cause why they should not be held in contempt and as grounds states….Plaintiffs most recent filing…in the District of Columbia.” 6/29/05 motion by David Brougham District of Colorado 02-cv-1950 document 566.

    “On September 2, 2005, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado held a contempt hearing based uponthe Plaintiffs’ violation of the District of Colorado
    court’s injunction barring the plaintiffs from filing their pro se Complaint, and other pro se civil actions involving any of the transactions addressed in theColorado action. At the hearing, Judge Nottingham found Plaintiff Kay Sieverding in civil contempt
    for violating the Court’s injunction and ordered her incarcerated until such time that she voluntarily dismisses this present action with prejudice, as well as any other actions she has filed that are based upon the Colorado action. Kay Sieverding refused to abide by the Court’s ruling and was immediately incarcerated. David Sieverding initially agreed to abide by the Court’s ruling and was ordered to dismiss his pending claims no later than September 9, 2005. Subsequently, Mr. Sieverding notified counsel that he does not intend to dismiss his claims so he is expected to face incarceration. See Exhibit E (Correspondence from David Sieverding to Counsel for the Defendants, dated September 6, 2005). Case 1:05-cv-01283-RMU Document 17 Filed 09/07/2005 pp5-6 (Kevin Kernan)

    “the ABA brings to the Court’s attention that on Friday, September 2, 2005, the Colorado District Court held Plaintiff Kay Sieverding in civil contempt for violating that court’s injunction against further pro se filings by Plaintiffs related to this matter and refusing to withdraw this and other actions filed after the Colorado District Court judgment was issued. Ms. Sieverding was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshal and remains incarcerated pending her voluntary dismissal of the remaining actions. See Courtroom Minutes of September 2, 2005 attached as ABA Exhibit 4” Case 1:05-cv-01283-RMU Document 27-1 Filed 09/08/05 Page 4 of 19 (Carolyn

    “In light of Mrs. Sieverding’s renewed efforts to litigate pro se civil actions that this Court has already found to violate its filing restrictions, Mrs. Sieverding should be ordered to appear before the Court and show cause why she should not be held in contempt of court and committed to the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service until such time as she fully complies with this Court’s order to terminate all litigation that violates the Court’s filing restrictions.

    “Wherefore, the Newspaper Defendants respectfully request that the Court enter an order setting a show cause hearing and direct that Mrs. Sieverding appear personally
    at such hearing and show cause why she should not be held in contempt of court. See D of Colorado 02-cv-1950 Document 862 Filed 08/10/06 page 4.”

    “She knows that she is not to pursue those lawsuits. And for her to suggest that I told her to dismiss those lawsuits, and that does not cover her appeals from those
    lawsuits is silly…she might dismiss everything before those marshals get to her…once she’s in custody she will not get out of custody until those are actually dismissed… She was told in unequivocal terms to dismiss both those lawsuits…What has to happen is those lawsuits have to be dead, lifeless…She is not to do anything to pursue them on appeal, motion for reconsideration or anything else …what has to happen is those lawsuits have to be dead, lifeless, and she is not to do anything to pursue them on appeal, motion for reconsideration, or anything else… she faces a real possibility ofincarceration as she knows because it’s happened before” 9/22/06 transcript former Judge Edward Nottingham.

  3. He is threatening a specific judge and a judge who is sitting on a case the he is involved in.

    It is a directed threat of violence against a specific person who Jeffries knows, can recognize and can gain easy access to.

    Judges have been murdered and wounded by individuals who were involved in cases in their courts.

    There are three people in Alaska that the FBI just arrested recently for,among other things, threatening a judge who was trying one of those arrested for not paying taxes.

    That to me seems like a serious enough threat to need the law to act to protect the person threatened.

  4. Isn’t the crime of threatening a judge to affect either a criminal prosecution or a civil prosecution a subsection of the Witness Intimidation Act?

  5. Bruce in jersey….I suppose you have picked the wrong side of the fence to sit on….The man can say what the man wants to say….The prosecutor should be ashamed of themselves….so what…. Judges should be able to take some snarking…really….

    W=C, I think you are qualified to serve on the US Sct….. You are American….Yes….at least a naturalized citizen…. You in….don’t even have to be an attorney….really….

    The family courts are a very emotionally based area of the Judicial System…if the Judge can’t handle this….maybe he should be a prosecutor….Question….was the Judge the same on that sat on the most recent case?

  6. Reconsider your judgment on this one, Professor. I’m a lawyer myself (retired) and a longtime ACLU member, but I watched the video, and I would have voted to convict the guy. This wasn’t “criticism” of a judge’s decision, it was a credible threat to kill the judge if he ruled against Jeffries in a forthcoming proceeding. And it wasn’t one line in the “song”, either. The threat was repeated. In essence – minus the guitar playing – Jeffries posted a video that begins, “This is for you, Judge,” and goes on to say Jeffries is a soldier, he’s killed in war, and he’s willing to kill the judge if the judge denies him custody rights.

    OK, he didn’t send the video directly to the judge, he sang the rant and accompanied himself on guitar, and maybe he was just venting, and maybe he wouldn’t actually have carried out the threat. But that’s the nature of a threat: the recipient cannot be certain the threat is a promise, but the purpose of a threat is to intimidate the recipient into doing what the threatener wants.

    Coercive or extortionate threats are not protected speech. And posting on the Internet is substantially the same as putting a billboard up in a public square. The jury got it right, and Professor, though I usually agree with your views, I think you’re wrong on this case. I’m feeling no chill on my First Amendment rights.

  7. sorry “exit interviews” not “exist interviews”.

    When I had a baby the hospital contacted me to make sure I thought everything went well and to see if I had any suggestions.

  8. I thought the idea with threats is that a threat isn’t a threat if it isn’t a credible threat. Like if you say “drop dead” as a retort, it’s not supposed to mean that you should be arrested.

    I agree with Professor Turley that there are all sorts of dangerous precedents. I saw another article recently where some guy was accused of all sorts of low life crimes and threatening a judge was thrown in. But it sounded like he might have been muttering or joking in his living room.

    Over dramatizing threats that aren’t serious probably won’t help judges actually be more safe because it adds credibility to the threats and encourages copy cat threats.

    It is too bad that the judicial profession in the U.S. has not kept up good reputations. If I were them, I would have exist interviews for all litigants and publish every single allegation of wrongful treatment and respond to them… “I am sorry that I acted impatiently” “I am sorry that I didn’t understand what you meant when you said…..” “I want to be fair”

  9. “If the judiciary thinks they can’t be criticized?

    Fuck ‘em.”

    Exactly. If you’re that thin-skinned you are in the wrong career.

  10. If the judiciary thinks they can’t be criticized?

    Fuck ’em. They’re not gods beneath those robes. Merely people with a duty to society before themselves . . . a lil’ fact some of them sometimes forget. Because they’re not perfect. Just judges.

    Like Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan in Pennsylvania who took cash payments totaling $2.6 million for wrongly sentencing thousands of juveniles to incarceration to boost the profits of PA Child Care, LLC.

  11. But wouldn’t you feel silly if he WERE to kill the judge, or his ex-wife?

  12. catch:

    Allowing to teach Creationism would be the ONLY fair thing to do.

    Banning it would be the unfair thing to do. It is a free speech issue only on the federal level.

    The states and locals have every right to run their schools as they see fit. Though I believe compulsory education is anathema to a supposed liberty loving people and thus disapprove of it.

    The federal government has NO authority over the issue. And thus the free speech clause has no relevance to this case unless it is the feds who originally interfered with the schools.

  13. Alabama mayor calls for more training after video of black suspect’s beating by cops goes viral

    The video shows Daniel exiting a car with both arms extended parallel to the ground and his hands clearly empty – only to have a responding officer smash him repeatedly in the back of the head.

    A half-dozen cops eventually subdued the surrendering suspect, whose right eye was completely swollen shut after the arrest.

    One officer was placed on paid leave following the incident, and a second officer was expected to join him.

    Read more:

    Read more:

  14. I live in Knoxville and I can tell you that we take free speech very seriously. Especially when it comes to supporting the government and allowing academic freedom to teach creationism. (House Bill 368 just passed the Education Committee and prohibits infringing on teacher’s free speech rights to teach alternatives to evolution.)

    Just sayin’

  15. These Judges; all too many of them are Federalist Society Tory Usurpers thus they are overly sensitive to any expression of anger or angst towards them as they know well what they are doing and have done to our Republic such as it is..

    I do think this Sergeant’s expression is a bit to specific singing about killing judges should not be taken lightly but what crime was actually committed..

    When the Moby Grape recorded Murder in My Heart for the Judge would they today all be cast into Federal Prison or some State Institution..?

    I myself am a victim of Sam Alito’s criminal actions in New Jersey. I and the woman I loved suffered terribly for many years due to his criminality and she was sexually assaulted for 3 hours by one of the police goons Alito favored and covered for, yet I have refrained from anything that could be construed as a threat even though be violated multiple laws covering for the serial drunk driving and crashing cop that crippled me..and directed the cover up allowing years of persecution and retaliation and terror we suffered due to Alito..

  16. Mr. Turley,

    I cannot express may thanks for your defense of free speech.

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