Gamer Justin Carter’s Attorney Takes Us Inside Contentious Arrest

Saying Things Aloud vs. Posting Them Online: New Territory?

Another issue unearthed by the Carter case is the potential difference between saying something disturbing out loud, verbally (on, say, Xbox Live), versus posting it somewhere on the Internet. For one thing, comments and even threats voiced aloud during verbal conversations don’t have the staying power of written text. Verbal threats in the gaming world tend to vanish into the ether, disappearing as soon as the next multiplayer match begins.

But when words are published on the Internet, they’re out in the wild and vulnerable to all sorts of data surveillance. Screenshots are easy to take, which become image files that can be sent anywhere. And even when forum and social media threads are deleted, they can be retrieved fairly easily.

“We’re in an area of speech, or at least a mode of speech, that has never been — certainly not litigated before — the rules haven’t been drawn,” said Flanary. “So law enforcement is operating on speech protections on the public square, but there’s no law or case law to give them guidance about speech laws on the Internet, on the Cybersquare.”

Constitutional protections of free speech are what kept Washington D.C. Police Officer Christopher Picciano out of hot water after he spoke about killing Michelle Obama to his colleagues during a conversation. As reason.com points out, Picciano made incendiary comments on Facebook as well, but remains free, and is still employed by the D.C. Police Department.

Public Perception of ‘Gamers’

Flanary and Van Brunt also said they thought the public perception of “gamers” may also play a part in Carter’s case, and in elements of the case such as the high amount of his bond.

“Most of [Carter's] free time is spent online and I fear that law enforcement, or the state, is going to try to portray him as some sort of dark person, because he’s playing these games,” Flanary said. “And I fear that they’re going to say, well, because he does this, he’s desensitized to violence. That’s obviously a big issue today and people talk about it. I don’t know, I don’t believe that there’s any research to support the hypothesis that people are any more violent because they play video games.”

Meanwhile, Carter’s release is a first major victory for him and his family, after nearly six months behind bars. But while his release is a serious improvement on his situation, there’s a long road ahead that could eventually lead to a trial.

“What would be the best scenario for Justin? We could do everything we can do to make Justin whole again,” Van Brunt said. “You can’t give him back his time that he’s already been in there. You can’t give him back the hurt that was caused to him while he was in there, in jail. But overall, we’d like to leave his case in a way that saves others, saves Justin, and also gives us an opportunity to redress the things that have happened.”

What’s Next for Justin Carter?

Flanary and Van Brunt said they’re working on Carter’s case pro bono — which means they won’t be paid for their time — because of the constitutional issues involved, as well as to help someone they believe has been wrongly accused. The issues concerning the Sixth Amendment were the lawyers’ first focus.

Apart from Carter’s imprisonment, the case hinges on whether Carter’s speech is protected under the First Amendment. Flanary said it’s possible that the judge on the case could dismiss the charges based on the facts alone, but if Carter does go to trial, the ruling could have far-reaching implications on online speech.

Editor’s Note: This story previously incorrectly asserted that New Braunfels Police interviewed Carter at his home, but court documents obtained later by Game Front show this was not the case. The story also previously stated that the anonymous individual had donated $50,000 to serve as Carter’s bail. That number was erroneous: the individual had in fact donated the full $500,000 bail. The story has been updated with the correct information.

Game Front will be closely following this story as it developers, so stay tuned.

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29 Comments on Gamer Justin Carter’s Attorney Takes Us Inside Contentious Arrest

Mike

On July 11, 2013 at 4:00 pm

The Constitution protects our ability to be vitriolic, disgusting human beings (as the hardcore LoL players tend to be) and we shouldn’t have to live in fear of what people say. Yet another example of how incredibly far America has fallen.

Mccrackelz

On July 11, 2013 at 6:42 pm

This is why I’m not crazy about Facebook. We’re too often our own worst enemies.

Mccrackelz

On July 11, 2013 at 6:49 pm

ALSO, thanks for the thorough rundown of all this, I wasn’t sure if it was as cut and dried as a threatening Facebook comment sending a kid to prision. Thanks for clearing that up gamefront!

JawaEsteban

On July 11, 2013 at 10:48 pm

One of the (many) troubling things about this case that comes to mind is the fact that there is still, despite significant effort to educate, a very large group of social media users who don’t get that they would have more legal protection and more privacy yelling their thoughts at the top of their lungs in a Walgreens parking lot than posting them on Facebook. People need to stay off that site. It’s friggin’ Disney World for identity thieves, be they corporate or basic street criminal, without even scratching the surface of the other privacy issues at play.

Secondly, based on the information presented, severe overreaction here by law enforcement. Granted, Mr. Carter could probably not have picked a worse time to be making comments of this nature, but an arrest is way over the top. Ideally, this matter should have been investigated and vetted, and Mr. Carter would have received a visit from a representative of the regional JTTF or DPS to provide education and an admonishment to tone it down. That’s as far as it should have gone.

Thirdly, and this is entirely my own opinion spoken as a serious gamer for a very long time now, but getting worked up enough over LoL to make comments of the type that Mr. carter did is ridiculously immature and shows remarkably poor judgement on his part. Again, speaking as a gamer, it’s just a friggin’ game. If he was that wound up about it, he should have taken a breather, had a Dr. Pepper, and gone to do something else for a few hours.

Instead, thanks to Mr. Carter’s poor choice of words, the rest of us can only hope that this case continues to fly under the media radar. In the current media climate of painting video games as causing violent behavior, this is gas on the fire. Lovely. Just what we need. If this makes it to CNN, the House of Representatives is going to have a field day. Believe it.

pt

On July 11, 2013 at 11:01 pm

You just don’t say things like that though….

Mozer

On July 11, 2013 at 11:07 pm

I was practically vomiting by the time I finished reading this article. The media has people so freakin’ scared out of their minds by milking stories about school shootings and what-not that anytime a ‘gun’ enters the conversation, it practically becomes ing civil unrest. called Carter crazy? The whole of the US government is ing crazy for even allowing this kid to sit in jail for exercising his first amendment rights! The harsh reality is that we as human beings are savage creatures and the fact that we have a central government and local law enforcement, doesn’t mean we’ve changed at all since the feudalistic times when a group of bandits could come in and slaughter your whole village without resistance. Living in fear is not living at all. Grow up, ing liberals!

Axetwin

On July 11, 2013 at 11:17 pm

They’re going to lose the fight on the 6th amendment violation. Since he is being charged with a threat of terrorism, that would probably fall under the Patriot Act, which suspends the 6th amendment right.

Now, I’m going to say something that a LOT of people are probably going to disagree with. I agree with him being arrested. Words are not meaningless and under the right conditions have consequences. Saying “lol jk” doesn’t always mean the person is actually kidding. A giant red flag for someone legitimately contemplating suicide, is when they joke about it. So when the police got involved, they had a duty to arrest him while they investigated. Saying “lol jk” should not act as a get out of jail free card…..no pun intended.

HOWEVER with that said, if they still don’t have a case after 6 months, then it’s time to drop it and let him go. But they didn’t, which in my mind says someone is pushing. Someone high up wants to make an example of this kid. Unless they actually have a case here, it’s the only thing that explains why he is still in jail after 6 months and why the judge spontaneously doubled his bail as soon as his case started to attract attention.

If someone is pulling strings, calling in favors to work against him does not bode well here. If I’m right, there is a good chance he’ll be unjustly convicted and sentenced to the fullest extent of the law. Unfortunately, that won’t be the end of it. This case will then be part of the next salvo fired against the gaming community by the government and it’s going to hurt us…..bad.

Jay

On July 11, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Well written articles that actually matter. This is why I’ve go this site bookmarked.

babs

On July 12, 2013 at 1:55 am

JOSH PILEAULT is also ‘doing time’ for essentially the same scenario- keep up your good work

me again

On July 12, 2013 at 2:22 am

i hope this Don Flanery is a good enough lawyer- he’ll be fighting for all of us that have said things online and particularly- facebook/ he’s working pro bono- i hope he’s smart enough

fistfullofcents

On July 12, 2013 at 3:50 am

Sounds like the KGB has taken residence in America.

sep

On July 12, 2013 at 5:58 am

What a sick, paranoid world; putting this guy in prison. This is why I’ll never father a child. I’m doing him/her a favor.

Ron Whitaker

On July 12, 2013 at 5:58 am

@axetwin: While I certainly don’t think that he was smart to make the comments that he did, it seems like the arrest was going too far. That’s based on what we know now, obviously. As of right now there’s been no compelling reason for the arrest, and it appears to be a massive violation of his rights. Now, if there’s some sort of evidence that we don’t know about yet, then obviously that changes things a lot. But words are in fact just words. The proper response to this would have been to investigate. If he was found to actually be an imminent threat, then I’d be fine with the arrest. If not, then he should have been left alone.

What worries me more than this arrest is the sheer number of people who are taking the attitude that it’s OK. (Again, that’s based on what we know now.) OK, the kid said something stupid. I don’t think anyone disagrees with that. But to lock him up only for saying it is such a blatant violation of his constitutional rights that I really hope that there’s some evidence we don’t know about. Something that justifies the knee-jerk reaction of Texas law enforcement. Something that says “This kid is a dangerous threat.” If there’s not, we’ve just learned that limits are being imposed on free speech, and that’s a terrifying thought.

sep

On July 12, 2013 at 6:07 am

seriously! are you kidding me??!

I hear far worse snide, unethical, thoughtless, racist, sexist, rude, senseless, obnoxious, and pretty much any foul attribute you can assign to a phrase, at the local pub every friday. But I have a brain that can tell me what to take seriously even when I am ing drunk. Are Americans really that paranoid??! Almost everyday I get reasons to not really like them.

*flame suit on

sahib

On July 12, 2013 at 6:14 am

Adding another reason for being glad I am NOT a citizen of the USA.

Gahoolie

On July 12, 2013 at 8:15 am

I don’t know what to say. I read about Snowden, Justin Carter and the whole NSA-worldwide-spying-mess and I realize that it all boils down to this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_Police

And this does NOT only happen in America. Here in Europe it is just the same.
I feel sick.

Big the Gangster Cat

On July 12, 2013 at 10:36 am

Yet another fine example on how since the country’s broke they make money on prisoners meaning they’ll do anything to get a guy convicted if it means more money to suck from the taxpayers. Sandy Hook was a hoax and everyone knows it, it was a ploy by the u.s. government to get guns banned so marshal law could be in effect. Everything that the u.s. government does nowadays it’s all to get us to surrender to them. The forefathers of this country wanted it to have less government and more freedom for the people. We can see now how our right to vote ed that up. With Northern Colorado wanted to secede from Colorado it’s only the first step, soon there will be another civil war but this time it will truly be about fighting for freedom yet again. Wow that was a random rant.

Novus

On July 12, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I’m going to nuke the whole world, the moon, and the aliens on mars even though I do not have the ability to do so nor proof of the alien’s existence. You heard it here first, folks.

Huntsman06

On July 12, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Apparently law officials found the loophole in the game of life & catching criminals; forget trying to find the criminals and just watch their facebook status.

Ihatepeople

On July 13, 2013 at 9:11 am

I don’t understand why anyone would say something so stupid like that on the Internet. He certainly doesn’t deserve jail time, but his parents need to kick his ass for being such a dumb ass.

Aedelric

On July 14, 2013 at 4:25 am

My wife works in a kindergarten, I have no sympathy for his predicament for what he said.

He is a hardcore League of Legends gamer and as Mike said they are generally disgusting human beings. With luck his jail time has taught him a life lesson, unfortunately I doubt that it has making the donation his family received an exceptional waste of money.

I live in Vienna, freedom of speech is important in Europe and generally protected, but hate speech is not. Ill informed people believe you are free to hate and threaten others and they are protected to do so, this is not the case, for instance here you can get jail time for vehement hateful speech, many other countries are the same.

If he was in any ways a decent human being nothing would have happened to him, I guess karma came a calling.

Michael Hartman

On July 15, 2013 at 12:45 pm

There are surely a lot of details we don’t have yet.

Why was there such a huge delay before the arrest?

What did they find when they seized his computer?

I find it hard to believe that the police, DA’s office, etc. would be ok with locking some 19 year old guy up for 4 months if all he did was post some stupid comments on Facebook. There has to be more to the story.

1) Does this young man have a juvie record with some violence or something indicating a pattern of behavior.

2) Did his computer have evidence of planning to do something like he threatened?

If the facts are just what we have, then yeah, the police/DA/government went absolutely crazy and I hope he sues them for millions for violating his constitutional rights.

I find it hard to believe that there isn’t more to the story. I hope we find out.

Steve C.

On July 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm

The sick thing is, nothing is going to happen to the sickos currently tweeting/posting “lynch George Zimmerman”,
“Kill cops, kill whitey” etc. When one of these is quite likely to incite violence and even killing….

Ares

On July 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Well say stupid crap like that and one deserves an ass kicking. Jail not so much. From reading it looks like ass kicking was received and I think(hopefully) a lesson was learned. Time will tell.

As mentioned above about the media. He better hope they don’t get wind of this now that the focus of their attention is pretty much done in Florida. You know they will be searching for something to sink their claws into.

supremeallah

On July 15, 2013 at 4:04 pm

@Ares

No, you are totally wrong. People don’t “deserve asskickings” over words.

Try that crap defense in court on assault charges and see how far that gets you.

Words don’t hurt. Sticks and stones.

People who get offended over words are just pathetic.

Phil Hornshaw

On July 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm

@Michael Hartman

We’re thinking the same, and details are still coming out at a trickle. I can say for certain that there couldn’t have been plans for an attack in the seized material coming from Carter’s home, however — simply because the charges would be different. If there was evidence of an attack, he wouldn’t be charged with the equivalent of calling in a fake bomb threat — he’d be charged with planning a real attack. The fact that he’s being prosecuted for the false threat rather than for something worse is very telling.

We’re going to keep on top of this report for as long as is necessary to uncover all the details, however, so stay tuned.

-.-' srsly

On September 14, 2013 at 4:41 am

everybody should just calm their tits. It’s a god damn online conversation. This kid got arrested? is on trial? Jesus Christ why don’t you lock up more then half the online users? I’ve seen far worst online conservation and no body gave a particle about it, but no, an canadian feels offended, let’s lock up the world. This is just plain stupid. Taking game chat and online conservations serious is just what we need. That would mean that at least a 1000 people that played bad are waiting for me to have sex with their mother, sister, cousins etc. The sadest part is that the authoritys are taking this serious. I still don’t belive this crap load

LoL connoisseur

On September 15, 2013 at 3:13 pm

This is absolutely the most ridiculous arrest ever. 10 years? I could date rape a woman and get less than that. Good going America.

Overgame

On October 2, 2013 at 7:02 am

When I read comments like the one posted by Aedelric, I’m wondering if “Idiocracy” isn’t already here.

Eh guys, you never made a bad joke ? Everyday, there is someone in my guild joking about how we will start the Extermination of all Humans, World Domination, Mass Murdering ? Or when we are talking about TV Shows like Breaking Bad or Dexter ?

Do you realise that someone was arrested and spent 6 months in jail for a few words on Facebook ? What’s next, someone playing GTA V saying “I got a new weapon, I’m gonna shoot everything in the way” will be sent in jail ?