Freedom of Speech Does Not Permit Making Threats of Violence against the President

A Utah man is facing decades behind bars for repeatedly making threats of violence against the President, something not considered a right under the Freedom of Speech Clause.

Threatening the President

Photo by: Dave Newman

33 year old Travis Luke Dominguez of Midvale, Utah was arrested after calling 911 on numerous occasions and threatening the life of President Trump. Although there is no evidence reportedly linking Dominguez’s threats of violence to any substantial danger as he is known for blowing smoke, he was arrested and tried in federal court for using his words to make threats of violence against the President.

Threats of violence

Utah Code 76-5-107 notes that making threats of violence is illegal if accompanied with “a show of immediate force or violence” or while “act[ing] with intent to place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury . . . or death”. If someone threatens another and acts with intent or violence, is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. Making a threat against the President however, regardless or any accompanying action is considered a class E felony and punishable by up to five years in federal prison according to 18 U.S. Code § 871.

Freedom of (most) speech

Hateful talk towards POTUS is typical nowadays with many voicing their distaste orally or through social media accounts with vicious flare. While sharing negative opinions about the president is a constitutionally given right to any American citizen, knowingly and willfully sending threatening mail or “otherwise mak[ing] any such threat against the President . . . “ is crossing the line. This law that has been adopted into the United States legal system stems from the English Treason Act of 1351 which made it a crime to plan or “imagine” death to a member of the Royal Family. While the Puritans freed themselves from English rule, they somehow chose to keep a law placing an elected citizen on a pedestal much like the King or Queen’s with special contradictions in place to override constitutional rights of the everyday citizens. Residents of the United States are encouraged to choose their free speech carefully when speaking of individuals in high places to avoid criminal charges.

No Reason Needed For Police to Ask to Enter Home

Police do not need a valid reason to ask someone if they can enter a home and unless a warrant is served, homeowners do not need to comply with the request.

Respect but protect

Photo by: West Midlands Police

Many Utah residents acknowledge police officers as being authority figures who can often be seen as intimidating. When an officer knocks on someone’s door, the first reaction a resident may have is to comply completely with anything the officer asks of them. They may think that anything other than complete submission is a sign of guilt. This can lead to a resident waiving his Fourth Amendment rights.

Knock and talk

In order for police officers to enter a home without permission, they need to have a legal warrant or reasonable grounds to do so. With a warrant in hand, police have the right to enter and search any areas outlined in the warrant. If officers do not have a warrant and have no valid reason to enter a home, they are still allowed to knock on the door, just like anybody else can. This is known as a simple “knock and talk”.

Permission not granted

During a “friendly” knock and talk, the homeowner has the option to:

• Talk to officers through the closed door;
• Open the door and answer questions at the door;
• Go outside to speak to officers on the porch; or
• Invite officers inside the residence to talk.

Unfortunately with nervousness and intimidation at work, the majority of people will be overly agreeable and give officers permission to enter their home. Once this is done, that resident has forfeited the protection given them under the Fourth Amendment. Utah residents are encouraged to keep calm when police come knocking and to be respectful while also protecting their rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. If permission is not given and officers enter and search the home anyway, any evidence could be no admissible in court. It is best to consult with an attorney regarding these matters.

The Eighth Amendment and the Death Penalty

If the people are protected against cruel and unusual punishments, where does the death penalty come in?

Eighth Amendment

Photo by: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” No one convicted of a crime should face punishments that are considered severe or unfair. Being sentenced to death seems to be the grimmest and harshest sentence possible though, so why is it permissible under the protection of the Eighth Amendment?

Death penalty

In the early 1970’s the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty to be in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Within a few short years however, during the case of Gregg V. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled by a wide majority that the death penalty under new statutes were no longer unconstitutional. Under the new guidelines, the trials of someone facing the death penalty must be a two part, with the first determining guilt or innocence and if found guilty, the second step to decide prison or death.

Is Utah pro-death penalty?

Photo by: Humphrey King

The state of Utah wasted no time in welcoming the death penalty back. In fact, Utah was one of the first states to begin perform an execution after the nationwide overhaul of capital punishment. Utah is also the only state to still have the questionable firing squad as an option of carrying out the death penalty when unable to “obtain the substance or substances necessary to conduct an execution by lethal intravenous injection” according to Utah Code 77-18-5.5. Many death penalty activists in Utah are currently fighting to cease the death penalty in Utah on the next legislative session. While many claim it is truly unconstitutional to take the life of another person under law, others admit the death penalty with the cost of the continuous appeals is just too expensive to support.

Capital felonies

Until Utah lawmakers decide to abolish the death penalty, Utah Code 76-3-206 states: “A person who has pled guilty to or been convicted of a capital felony [such as murder] shall be sentenced in accordance with this section [and if the person] was 18 years of age or older at the time the offense was committed, the sentence shall be:

(i) An indeterminate prison term of not less than 25 years and that may be for life; or
(ii) On or after April 27, 1992, life in prison without parole”;
(iii) [or the ultimate punishment,]  Death”.