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Court throws out conviction for online posts directed at DA

A North Carolina appeals court threw out the threat conviction Tuesday of a man for social media comments strongly criticizing a local district attorney, saying they did not meet the legal definition of a “true threat.”
Three state Court of Appeals judges hearing the case of David Warren Taylor, who was convicted in 2018 of threatening to kill Macon County District Attorney Ashley Welch, found the felony count was applied unconstitutionality to him.
Taylor posted several comments to his personal Facebook page in 2016 that he deleted after a couple of hours. He was upset that Welch, the DA for several far western counties, was not prosecuting some parents in the death of a toddler, according to the opinion.
A Macon sheriff’s detective took screenshots of posts before they were deleted. One that read if “our head prosecutor won’t do anything then the death to her as well” served as the primary basis for the charge against Taylor.
In a whole-context review of the posts, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Linda McGee wrote no evidence was presented to support a finding that Taylor “in posting his comments was to cause D.A. Welch to believe defendant was going to kill her.” Proving a “true threat” is required by the First Amendment, based on a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision, McGee wrote while offering standards for courts to handle such anti-threat statutes in North Carolina. The ruling directs that Taylor be acquitted.
Judge Richard Dietz, who wrote a separate opinion, described Taylor’s post as including “political hyperbole” about “his distrust in politicians, the justice system, and the government.” Such tirades, Dietz said, used to be limited to “living rooms or pool halls.”
“They now can be seen by everyone, everywhere,” Dietz wrote. “The First Amendment protects them either way.”

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