A Question for Federal Prosecutors About the Emotionally Distressing Tweets/Blog Posts Case

Here’s one thing that puzzles me about United States v. Cassidy, the federal prosecution for intentionally “engag[ing] in a course of conduct that caused [substantial] emotional distress” to a Buddhist leader via thousands of insulting Twitter posts and blog posts: Federal prosecutors, as I understand it, have many more cases coming in the door than they’re able to prosecute, and as a result are highly unlikely to go after “small fry” cases (e.g., relatively low-level frauds) even when there’s no doubt that the behavior is criminal.

I would have thought that it would be hard to get a federal prosecutor to go after someone who is intentionally insulting you and seriously emotionally distressing you online, even if a few of the posts are potentially threatening. And even if the prosecutors thought those posts were indeed punishable threats, I would have thought that it would have been especially hard to get the prosecutor to embrace a broad theory on which they might well lose, with some degree of public embarrassment, as opposed to a narrower theory focused on threatening communication rather than the broader and more controversial “substantial emotional distress” theory.

Obviously, I would have been mistaken, because the prosecutor here did take up the case. So I’d like to ask those people who are highly familiar with federal prosecutorial decisionmaking, likely those who have actually worked, or are actually working, as federal prosecutors: Why do you think a case like this would be taken up? What factors might lead a prosecutor to choose to prosecute this case, rather than the many others that a federal prosecutor’s office is surely asked to consider? Are there particular facts about the case that I might not know about, or not be focusing on, that might influence this judgment?

If you’re not a current or former federal prosecutor (or otherwise knowledgeable on the subject), please don’t just post your general cynical speculations about how prosecutors tend to behave; we can all come up with such speculations. Rather, in these comments I’m looking for thoughts informed by commenters’ actual knowledge of how federal prosecutors make such judgments.

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