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Justin Carter case: How one man's Facebook 'banter' is another's 'threat'

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In Carter’s case, Mr. Paulson says, it seems like “the entire [legal] system has overreacted to this post.”

It’s also one example of the myriad ways people are stumbling into trouble for behavior that has a wider audience on the Internet but would never get people into trouble back in the day when trash-talking simply took place in the living room as people played a violent video game, or when drunkenness was witnessed only by a few friends at a party.

Societally, people may want to steer fellow citizens away from using violent imagery in their online comments, but when it comes to police involvement, “it’s critical that we ensure their constitutional rights are protected, and free speech is at the core of that,” Paulson says.

A hearing to reconsider Carter’s bail is set for July 16.

Carter’s father tells NPR that his son has been traumatized in jail – seriously assaulted and put in solitary confinement because he’s been depressed. Attorney Flanary says that Carter could eventually pursue a federal civil rights lawsuit for being wrongfully arrested and detained.

The legal process has failed at several points along the way, Flanary says. Carter was arrested before police confirmed that the Facebook post genuinely came from his computer – a step that’s usually routine before even suspected child pornographers are arrested, he says. Police searched his house and found no guns or other threatening material. And it appears that they didn’t look at the context of the Facebook post before arresting him.

Flanary says that prosecutors have since subpoenaed that information from Facebook but haven’t produced anything along those lines yet.

Flanary also says the small screenshot originally sent by the tipster includes a negative comment against Carter, and that context was not included in the arrest warrant and indictment materials.

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