When Is a Threat a Threat?: A Forthcoming SCOTUS Ruling Could Have a Sweeping Impact on Gender-Based Violence

In the case, Counterman v. Colorado, the Court appeared willing to increase the threshold for identifying speech that rises to the level of a “true threat” and overturn a criminal stalking conviction as an infringement of the harasser’s constitutionally-protected First Amendment right to speech. Victim’s rights advocates and the state of Colorado warned that modifying the standard would have devastating consequences for victims of abuse and handicap prosecutors who would need to prove that an abuser intended to threaten the victim, rather than that a reasonable person would find the speech threatening.

Victims’ and women’s rights advocates—including Legal Momentum, the Feminist Majority Foundation, the National Crime Victim Law Institute and AEquitas—argued in an amicus brief that considering the speaker’s subjective intent would jeopardize future stalking prosecutions, as well as civil protection orders, and create another hurdle to prosecution in such cases, which are already underreported and lead to arrests in less than 8 percent of cases.