STATE v. STEPHEN J. KRIJGER, SC 18854
Judicial District of New London
Criminal; First Amendment; Whether Statements on Which Defendant's Convictions were Based Constituted "True Threats" Rather than Constitutionally Protected Speech. The defendant was involved in an ongoing zoning dispute with the town of Waterford concerning the accumulation of debris on his property. As a result, the defendant had many interactions with the town attorney, Nicholas Kepple. In 2008, Kepple requested, on behalf of the town, that the defendant be held in contempt and fined $150 per day for his failure to comply with a permanent injunction restraining him from violating the zoning regulations. At the hearing that followed, the trial court indicated that it would be imposing fines. The defendant, who was under the impression that the town would not seek fines as long as he brought his property into compliance with the regulations, followed Kepple out of the courthouse, directing obscenities toward him. Referring to a serious motor vehicle accident that had befallen Kepple's adult son, the defendant stated that "more of what happened to your son is going to happen to you" and that he was "going to be there to watch it happen." A brief angry exchange followed. Two days later, Kepple filed a complaint with the police, and the defendant was arrested. After a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of threatening in the second degree and breach of peace in the second degree. On appeal, the defendant claimed that there was insufficient evidence to establish that his statements to Kepple constituted "true threats" rather than protected speech under the first amendment to the United States constitution. The Appellate Court (130 Conn. App. 470) articulated the test for a "true threat," that is, whether a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted by the person against whom it was directed as a serious expression of intent to harm or assault, rather than a mere joke or hyperbole. Applying this test, the court concluded that the defendant's statements constituted true threats. In doing so, the court rejected the defendant's contention that the statements were not true threats because they did not specify the injuries that the defendant would witness Kepple suffer. Also, the court did not credit the defendant's argument that Kepple's reaction to his words and the delay in reporting the incident indicated that Kepple did not genuinely feel threatened. The Supreme Court has granted certification to review the Appellate Court's decision.