A YouTube video threatening to kill individually named police officers was sufficient evidence to support convictions of terroristic threats and intimidation of witnesses, the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided in Com. v. Beasley, __ A.3d __ (No. 1149 WDA 2014, filed Apr. 28, 2016). While criminal charges were pending against Rashee Beasley, two of the police officers scheduled to testify against him discovered a link on his Facebook page to a YouTube video. The video showed a rap music video made by Beasley and a friend entitled “Fuck the Police.” In the video Beasley threatened to kill the two officers and stated that he disobeyed his mother’s direction by posting the video online. He was charged and later convicted of, inter alia, terroristic threats and intimidation of witnesses. Beasley appealed to the Superior Court, arguing that the Commonwealth’s evidence was insufficient because he did not intentionally or recklessly communicate the threats directly to the officers.
The Superior Court affirmed. Writing for the unanimous panel, Judge Jenkins noted that Pennsylvania’s terroristic threats statute requires that a threat be “communicated,” 18 Pa. C.S. §2706, which in this context means received by the target. Terroristic threats, the Court continued, do not have to be communicated directly, nor does the defendant need to intend to carry out the threat. Here, Beasley had a link on his personal Facebook page to a video specifically threatening to kill the named officers, and he indicated his intent to communicate by stating that he went against his mother’s wishes by posting the video. Thus, the Court concluded that he successfully and intentionally communicated his threat. As for the witness intimidation charge, 18 Pa. C.S. §4952, the Court explained that actual intimidation of a witness is not required; “the crime is committed if one, with the necessary mens rea, ‘attempts’ to intimidate a witness or victim” to, inter alia, withhold testimony. Because Beasley posted a rap song specifically threatening to kill the officers who were going to testify against him, and did so with intent to communicate his message, the Court held that there was sufficient evidence to support the conviction.