Four Years Prison For Facebook Posts

British courts are handing out swift and harsh sentences for people involved in last week's riots, including four-year prison sentences for two 20-somethings for Facebook postings in support of the mayhem.

British courts are handing out swift and harsh sentences for people involved in last week’s riots. The most sensational cases involve two 20-somethings who got four years prison for Facebook postings in support of the mayhem.

CBS/AP (“Brits get 4 years prison for Facebook riot posts“):

About 1,400 people have already been charged with riot-related offenses after the chaos which gripped Britain last week. More than 1,200 have appeared in court — often in chaotic, round-the clock-sessions dispensing justice that is swifter, and harsher, than usual.

Although public opinion currently favors stern punishment for anyone involved in the riots and looting, a few cases have made headlines and sparked debate.

Late Tuesday, two men in northwestern England were handed stiff jail terms for inciting disorder through social networking sites. Cheshire Police said Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, both received 4-year sentences for using Facebook to “organize and orchestrate” disorder. Blackshaw used the social networking site to create an event — with a date, time and location — for “massive Northwich lootin.”‘ Sutcliffe created a page on Facebook called “Warrington Riots” which listed a time and date for anyone who wished to be involved in a riot.

[…]

Some of the harsher sentences are expected to be appealed, and legal and human rights activists in Britain have expressed concern that the punishments may be reactionary and serve only to clog up the court system with appeals for years to come.

“The public disturbances are seen as an aggravating factor and that is fair enough,” Andrew Neilson from the Howard League for Penal Reform told CBS News partner network Sky News. “But there seems to be a complete lack of proportionality to some of the sentences…These make a mockery of proportionality, which is a key principle of the justice system.”

The maximum sentence for a conviction of inciting disorder in the U.K. is 10 years, however, and a representative of Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service said the two young mens’ Facebook posts, “caused significant panic and revulsion in local communities as rumors of anticipated violence spread.”

In the United States, it would take weeks, if not months, for any of these cases to come to trial. The Brits have the right idea in actually delivering a speedy trial, rather than just paying lip service to it in a written Constitution. But 1400 trials in the span of a week on something this emotionally charged seems to be overdoing it a mite.

More importantly, while I am not a lawyer, I doubt Facebook postings such as those by Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan here would rise to the level of direct incitement. They appear to be mere yahoos with no established following or history of persuading people to criminal violence. As such, their actions would be protected speech under the First Amendment.

Even if this somehow crossed the threshold from boneheaded speech to malicious action, I’m inclined to agree with Neilson’s assessment that four years prison is grossly disproportionate to the crime. These fellows appear to be nothing more than meatheads with poor judgment. Unless they personally committed mayhem or were genuine ringleaders in the violence that rocked the UK, extensive prison time does not seem reasonable.

FILED UNDER: Europe, Law and the Courts, Quick Takes, US Politics, World Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Catfish says:

    These criminals got off light – they should be charged as terrorists, locked up, and lose the key.

  2. OzarkHibilly says:

    the two young mens’ Facebook posts, “caused significant panic and revulsion in local communities as rumors of anticipated violence spread.”

    Let me get this straight: There was no actual violence, just “rumors of anticipated violence”?
    Really? They are doing 4 yrs because some people got scared?

    Hells bells, half my time in N St Louis was spent being scared (the other half of my time was spent learning I had nothing to be afraid of).

    tom

  3. WR says:

    Amazing. Cameron actually had a lot of the British public on his side with his “they’re just a bunch of crooks” stance on the riots, but now that he’s demanding such ludicrous punishments, I suspect his number will begin to plummet…

  4. WR says:

    @OzarkHibilly: Meanwhile, the bankers who conspired and tanked the economy? Best buds with the government.

    People over there are beginning to notice the difference in treatment.

  5. Nuremberg was more of a legitimate trial than this sham.

    That was not a compliment towards Nuremberg, either (the biggest show trial in our history).

  6. liberty60 says:

    Proof once again that the best way to rob a bank is to own one.

    There was a time when I would have taken an unforgiving stance but after witnessing the decade of behavior at the highest levels of government where the “law” was anything that the Presidents lawyers told him it was, when Wall Street banks ran what can only be described as a massive con game it just leaves me with the sense that the only crime these yahoos committed was in thinking small.

  7. James in LA says:

    @Christopher Bowen: Nuremberg fulfilled the purpose of unmasking Nazi thought for exactly what it was. Some of those on trial went to the grave without remorse. It was a necessary show, if not a trial.

    Until America has it’s Nuremburg Moment and actual consequences are handed down, it cannot recover.

    For example, the former head of the previous criminal enterprise posing as a presidency who admitted on national t.v. that he gave the order to torture still resides comfortably in Dallas in utter mockery of all of us.

    Put another way: no jobs, no perp-walks make homer something-something.

    Four years of prison for teenage users of FB is not going to cut it.

  8. mattb says:

    That was not a compliment towards Nuremberg, either (the biggest show trial in our history).

    By “our”, I take it you mean American History. Because I think you can argue that the Eichmann trial was the biggest “show” trial of the 20th century.