Dad lands 18 months in jail for threatening judge on YouTube

The First Amendment is alive and well—so long as you aren’t making death threats to a Tennessee judge and posting them onto YouTube.

Frustrated over his July 2010 contention in court for partial custody of his daughter, 38-year-old Army veteran Franklin Delano Jeffries Jr. penned “Daughter’s Love,” a song and music video that included, among other sentiments, several threats against Knox County (Tenn.) Chancellor Mike Moyers, the district judge overseeing the case.

At one point, Jeffries goes so far as to sing “Take my child and I’ll take your life.”

“I’m not kidding,” he continues. “Judge, you better listen to me. I killed a man downrange in war.

“And you’re going to get some crazy guy like me after your ass. And I encourage other dads to go out there and put bombs in their car. Blow them up. This is children we’re talking about.”

When law enforcement came across the video—since deleted, though mirrors exist—in 2010, prosecutors originally charged Jeffries with the federal offense of communicating threats. He was promptly convicted and sentenced to 18 months in jail.

On Monday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati upheld the conviction.

Jeffries’ attorney Jonathan Harwell told The Wall Street Journal that he intended to keep fighting the case despite the obvious threats his client made.

“He was essentially venting his opinions and never dreamed this message would get back to the judge,” Harwell said, referring to the tenants of the First Amendment.

But Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who authored the opinion, wrote that the statute covers “‘any threat,’ making no distinction between threats delivered orally in person, by phone or in letters, emails, faxes, by video or by song, in old-fashioned ways or in the most up-to-date.

“Nor would this be the first time that an old flask was filled with new wine—that an old statute was applied to a technology nowhere to be seen when the law was enacted,” Sutton wrote.

Photo via YouTube

Chase Hoffberger

Chase Hoffberger

Chase Hoffberger reported on YouTube, web culture, and crime for the Daily Dot until 2013, when he joined the Austin Chronicle. Until late 2018, he served as that paper’s news editor and reported on criminal justice and politics.