State v. Murle E. Perkins, 2000 WI App 137, 237 Wis. 2d 313, 614 N.W.2d 25, reversed on other grounds, State v. Perkins, 2001 WI 46, ¶2 n. 2
For Perkins: William E. Schmaal, SPD, Madison Appellate
Issue: Whether a conditional threat to shoot a judge, made by a drunk and very depressed individual just before being taken into Ch. 51 emergency detention, sufficed to support conviction for threat to the judge, § 940.203(2).
Holding: The evidence supports the necessary elements, namely whether a reasonable person would interpret the defendant’s statement as a serious expression of intent to harm the judge. ¶14.
A judge found Perkins in contempt for failing to pay about $50,000 in child support. Perkins reacted by getting drunk and threatening suicide. When an officer showed up, he engaged Perkins in a 30-minute conversation. Perkins was still drunk and “very depressed.” During the course of their conversation, Perkins told the officer that if he were going to shoot himself, he’d shoot the judge “first because he’s a brain dead son of a bitch.” Turned out not to be the sort of banter tolerated in Vernon County, and Perkins was convicted of threatening a judge, § 940.203(2). There are, the court acknowledges, first amendment implications, exemplified by Watts v. U.S., 394 U.S. 705 (1969), such that only a “real” or “true” threat — as opposed to an idle one or political hyperbole — can be sanctioned. The test is “whether the communication would be interpreted by a reasonable person as a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily harm.” ¶12-13. That test was met, the court stressing the contempt order along with the epithet “brain dead son of a bitch” as showing actual animus. ¶¶15-17.