Tuesday, August 28, 2012

6th Circ.: Ok YouTube Death Threat Song Lands Singer in 'Sing-Sing'

Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In U.S. v. Franklin D. Jeffries II (Case No. 11-5722), the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has upheld the criminal conviction of an Iraq/Afghanistan war veteran whose YouTube music video threatened the life of an unidentified judge set to hear a child custody visitation dispute in which Jeffries was embroiled were the unnamed judge to issue an adverse ruling.

In a 20-page decision written by Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, the appellate court said the vehicle for delivering a death threat was unimportant if a reasonable person perceived the threat as genuine. According to accounts in the Knoxville News Sentinel and the ABA Journal Law News Now blog, Franklin Delano "Dale" Jeffries, a former Army sergeant, sang and rapped a warning that his next court date in a visitation battle with his daughter's mother had better be his last.

"If I have to kill a judge or a lawyer, or a woman, I don't care, cause this is my daughter we're talking about," Jeffries sang. His lyrics also included the phrase: "You don't deserve to be a judge and you don't deserve to live." As a songwriter, the defendant was less Cole Porter than Cole Younger, or more Frankenstein than Jule Styne.

Knox County Chancellor Mike Moyers was slated to hear the custody case in July 2010, the News Sentinel reported, but federal authorities intervened after Jeffries posted his ditty on YouTube and Facebook, and also forwarded it to a state senator and a local television station.

He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Jeffries was released earlier this year, but has since been sentenced to a year in prison by United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee Judge Thomas W. Phillips for cocaine use and issuing threats of suicide and murder on Twitter, so he's apparently turned his creative juices toward a new medium, at least.

Jeffries' attorneys claimed their client's song was a failed attempt at humor, and in any case, constituted a means of releasing stress that was protected by the First Amendment. No dice, said the Sixth Circuit. "[O]ne cannot duck (the law)," Judge Sutton wrote, "merely by delivering the threat in verse or by dressing it up with political and protected attacks on the legal system."

For the immediate future, it looks as if Jeffries' repertoire of songs may be confined to Prisoner of Love, Jailhouse Rock and the country & western classic: They May Put Me in Prison, but They Can't Stop My Face from Breakin' Out.

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  1. Google forces me to admit that last song title actually exists. Now I'm more reluctant than ever to admit I'm a C&W fan .. just the old classics, mind you, the hurtin', cheatin' songs without nasal twang. Thanks for the soul-warming laughter.

  2. If you're a C&W fan, you can toe-tap to: I Gave Her My Heart and a Diamond and She Clubbed Me With a Spade, Please Bypass This Heart, You Were Only a Splinter as I Slid Down the Banister of Life, and If My Nose Were Full of Nickles, I'd Blow It All on You. It's why I prefer jazz.