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Trial can go forward against student accused of making terrorist threat on Snapchat

Snapchat and other social media apps
Christian Wiediger

The Michigan Court of Appeals says a trial can go forward against a university student accused of making a threat of terrorism via a social media post. The decision was released Friday.

Lake Superior State University student Lucas Gerhard faces the criminal charge because of a post on Snapchat. According to the facts described in the decision, he was holding an AR-15 rifle with a bayonet attached. The caption said: “Takin this bad boy up, this outta make the snowflakes melt, aye? And I mean snowflakes as in snow,” followed by a winking-face emoji.

Gerhard was arrested and charged after two other students complained and one said she felt threatened.

The unanimous opinion written by Judge Amy Ronayne Krause said it was reasonable for the case to proceed in the Chippewa County Circuit Court to decide the facts:

"The circuit likewise properly concluded that although defendant had several 'very good arguments' for why a jury should find him not guilty at trial, the bindover was proper because the post could be a true threat."

But Gerhard’s attorney says that’s not how the system is supposed to work.

Philip Ellison says his client never made a specific threat and the post is protected free speech under the First Amendment.

“You don’t send the case to the jury and take the chance that the jury is going to get it right,” he told Michigan Radio. “Judges are supposed to stop and say, even if I don’t like what the person had to say, I have to protect their right to say it.”

Ellison says he intends to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to reverse the decision and he may also take the case to a federal court.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.