Social media posts can represent a violation of a protection order, the state’s highest court ruled on Tuesday, affirming the conviction of a man who made threats on Facebook.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected Richard Heffron III’s arguments that his Facebook comments were a protected form of speech, that the posts didn’t constitute direct or indirect contact, and that he wasn’t told that his posts represented a violation.
In its ruling, the court concluded Heffron’s social media comments violated the court-approved no-contact order and were outside the realm of constitutional protections.
“The court correctly determined that Heffron’s communications with the protected person fell short of those that deserve constitutional protection,” Justice Jeffrey Hjelm wrote, noting that the conviction “did not place his First Amendment rights at risk.”
Heffron and the woman with whom he’d had a relationship were no longer Facebook friends but still had friends in common. In the posts, Heffron referred to the woman by name and threatened to harm her. A friend brought the comments to the woman’s attention.
James Mason, Heffron’s attorney, said courts in other states have reached different conclusions but that the facts didn’t perfectly align with the Maine case.
“Obviously I’m disappointed,” Mason said. “I think that there was no evidence that he ever intended to have these comments reach her.”
After being convicted, Heffron was ordered to serve 21 days in jail, which was the length of time he was jailed before posting bail. He also was sentenced to a year of probation.
Mason said the ruling served as a cautionary tale.
“It lets people know that they do need to be careful about what they post on the internet,” he said. “It makes it clear that you have limited First Amendment protections on the internet, especially on Facebook.”
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.