Prison for Posting a Rap Song Called “Kill Me a Cop”:

The Lakeland (Florida) Ledger reports:

[Antavio Johnson, 20, was charged with two counts of corruption by threat of a public servant after a Polk County gang detective found the song on a MySpace page belonging to Hood Certified Entertainment in February.

In his song, “Kill Me a Cop,” Johnson mentions two Lakeland police officers by name, according to the Sheriff’s Office….

Johnson pleaded no contest to the charges July 24 and was sentenced to two years in state prison….

In the song, the lyrics “Im’ma kill me a cop one day” and “Call me crazy but I think I fell in love with the sound of hearing the dispatcher saying, ‘Officer Down,'” are repeated….

Johnson also refers to being on probation, Sheriff Grady Judd and the 2006 killing of deputy Matt Williams and his K-9 DioGi….

A friend of Johnson’s said he posted the song without paying close attention to the lyrics, and the song was never meant to be released, but it’s not clear to me whether the prosecutors believed that.

It’s hard to tell whether the song is constitutionally protected without seeing the full lyrics, which I couldn’t find. (Please let me know if you have an authoritative copy.) My tentative sense, though, is this:

(1) If Johnson distributed the song (or authorized such distribution) with the purpose of threatening the two particular police officers, then it would probably fit within the “true threats” exception to the First Amendment protection.

(2) If the song had simply generically said that the singer would kill cops one day, it would probably be constitutionally protected.

(3) If Johnson expressly mentioned the two police officers, but did not have the purpose of threatening those officers — but was just saying it as fiction, much as a writer might have a character say things that the writer doesn’t intend to have taken seriously — then the speech is probably protected (see Virginia v. Black, Part III.A), though some post-Virginia-v.-Black circuit court decisions say that such a purpose to threaten is not required.

UPDATE: Thanks to Victor Steinbok and commenter Chris Hundt, I got a link to the lyrics, which are here. My sense is that the specific reference to the two police officers would indeed make this into a potentially punishable threat, at least if it could be shown (had the case gone to trial) that the defendant had the purpose of threatening the police officers. It’s true that in some contexts speech can be pretty clearly fictional or hyperbolic, so a reasonable person wouldn’t perceive it as a serious threat, and a reasonable jury would conclude that the speaker didn’t have the purpose of threatening the target. But this is not clearly so in this context (though the defendant would be free to make the fiction argument to the judge and then to the jury, if the case had gone to trial).

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