(NEW YORK) –  The Supreme Court’s decision today in Counterman v. Colorado ruled that for someone to be convicted of the crime of uttering a “true threat” the government must show the speaker recklessly disregarded the speech’s threatening nature. The decision makes clear that speech cannot be criminalized simply because it was misunderstood or misinterpreted by someone in the audience, but still leaves open the possibility that speech that was not intended to be threatening could be criminalized.

“PEN America welcomes this decision as an important and necessary protection for free expression. No one should fear jail time for a misunderstanding,” said Kate Ruane, director, Sy Syms U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America.

“Nevertheless,” Ruane said, “we would have preferred a more speech-protective standard than the one announced today for true threats. The recklessness standard, appropriate for a stalking case or other crimes involving a course of conduct, creates the risk in cases addressing pure speech that heated or vociferous exchanges–potentially including rap lyrics, charged political disagreements, or even off-color jokes made in bad taste–could be prosecuted as threatening. The majority’s opinion failed to make this important distinction. We hope the Court will consider it in future cases.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel: [email protected], 201-247-5057