9th Circuit Holds That A Corporation Can’t Be Threatened

Apparently, if you want to threaten Superbowl viewers lives without punishment, all you need to do is address your letters to media organizations instead of actual individuals. At least that’s what worked for Kurt Havelock, whose conviction of mailing threatening messages was overturned by the ninth circuit this week.

According to the LA Times, Havelock was upset because he had been denied a liquor license for his horror-themed bar in Tempe, Arizona. So he decided to vent his frustrations at the 2008 Superbowl. Havelock gathered an assault rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition, which he planned to use to randomly kill football fans as they entered the Superbowl at the University of Phoenix stadium.

Just before he drove to the parking lot of the Superbowl, he dropped six priority mail envelopes in the mailbox, all mailed to different news organizations. These mailings included the death threats against the spectators as well as a “rambling manifesto.” Havelock continued on to the parking lot, where he waited for fans to arrive.

Thankfully, he had a change of heart and decided to leave before harming anyone. He called his father, and then he and both his parents went to the police station in Tempe to report the incident. The Tempe police could not tell if any laws had been violated, but federal agents, who came to the station to interview Havelock, filed criminal charges. He was sentenced to 366 days in prison, followed by 36 months of probation. Havelock actually served his entire jail sentence before the appeals process was through.

Keep in mind, Havelock was never charged or convicted with murder or attempted murder. He changed his mind before there was any “substantial step” towards completing the crime. (For instance, he had the weapon and ammunition, but never left his car.) He was convicted of six counts of “mailing threatening communications.” So why was the verdict overturned on appeal?

Because the letters were mailed to corporations, not people. The majority opinion said, “It makes no sense to threaten ‘to injure the person’ of a corporation.” Because the information in the mailing envelopes was not addressed to an actual individual, there was no real threat, and the ninth circuit allowed Havelock to walk free.

That’s not to say that everyone agreed with the decision. Judge Susan Graber dissented in the opinion, saying that “the majority’s interpretation produces absurd results.”

One person who is happy? Havelock’s public defender, Daniel Kaplan who said he thinks Havelock “just wants to move on with his life,” and that he hopes the appeals process is completely over.


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