Mo. high court upholds part of e-mail harassment conviction
A Missouri man who sent e-mails with offensive language and references to guns to an alderwoman and other public officials had one of his harassment convictions upheld by the state Supreme Court.
Police arrested Mark Wooden on Feb. 24, 2011, after learning he had sent the messages. The e-mails contained both text and audio messages. In one of them, he referred to the alderwoman as “Jezebel” and called her “the bitch in the Sixth Ward.” In another, he referred to shotguns and said he was going to make “a mess of everything with his sawed-off.”
Wooden faced charges under two provisions of a state anti-harassment law. One provision says:
“A person commits the crime of harassment if he or she …
(2) When communicating with another person, knowingly uses coarse language offensive to one of average sensibility and thereby puts such person in reasonable apprehension of offensive physical contact or harm.”
The other harassment charge comes from another provision of the same law, providing that a person commits harassment if he or she “[k]nowingly makes repeated unwanted communication to another person.”
Wooden moved to dismiss the charges, but a trial court refused. The case proceeded to a jury, which found him guilty on both harassment counts. Wooden appealed.
On Jan. 8 the Missouri Supreme Court upheld Wooden’s conviction under the provision prohibiting the use of “coarse language” that puts someone in reasonable fear of harm.
Wooden contended he had engaged in protected political speech, but the state high court in State v. Wooden disagreed. The court determined that Wooden had engaged instead in unprotected fighting words.
“Wooden discussed using a sawed-off shotgun, domestic terrorism and the assassination or murder of politicians,” the court wrote. “The constitutions (U.S. and Missouri) do not afford the luxury of allowing an individual to send threatening communications to politicians, pepper them with political speech, and then hide behind the individual rights he or she has maliciously abused.”
The state high court did reverse Wooden’s conviction under the provision prohibiting the repeated making of “unwanted communications” to another person. The Missouri court reversed this claim because the court had declared this provision unconstitutionally overbroad in a 2012 decision State v. Vaughn.