Drunken tweetstorm deserves felony sentence, MN court rules

When Harrison Rund, then 20, of South St. Paul, was stopped for speeding by a Minnesota state trooper in 2014, the ensuing argument led the trooper to search his trunk, where he found marijuana.

That wasn’t his biggest mistake, however.

He went home, started drinking, and then went on Twitter.

He was arrested the next morning, admitting he tweeted things he shouldn’t have.

He wrote a letter of apology to the police and pleaded guilty to making terroristic threats and under the state’s sentencing guidelines, he should’ve been sentenced to 12 months and one day in jail. His attorney asked for a 365 day sentence because that would convert his crime from a felony to a gross misdemeanor.

“I don’t think you had the intent to do it,” the judge said at sentencing. “You didn’t have a gun. You weren’t going out to try to search where they live. You weren’t going to make a planned attack. You just wanted to send a tweet out to affect as many people as you can, and that worked.”

“To give you a felony sentence . . . at your age . . . I don’t feel in balance that that’s in the best interests of society. We got too many people on probation [for] felonies already, and . . . I can accomplish much of the same thing on a . . . durational departure on a gross misdemeanor,” Dakota County Judge Timothy McManus said.

And that’s the sentence Rund got — a misdemeanor: four months in jail, the rest of the one-year sentence stayed, three years probation, no booze.

“Basically, young and dumb,” the judge said. “Pretty good kid who did a bad thing, and you affected a lot of people, but you got a lot of promise in your life, too. Okay. That’s what I see when I shake it all up. That’s really why the Court is doing what I am doing.”

McManus showed some heart.

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court said the judge shouldn’t have done that, ruling that none of the reasons for departing from the state’s guidelines for the crime are allowed under the law.

In so doing, it illuminated an interesting question surrounding the rules that were designed to provide consistency in sentencing from case to case: does a particular characteristic of the person matter when departing from sentencing guidelines?

The Supreme Court said factors such as a defendant’s amenability to probation or treatment, or his/her remorse, do not. Only factors that reduce the seriousness of the offense are legally permissible for departures from sentencing guidelines.

“The district court emphasized that Rund did not actually intend to carry out the threats, suggesting that this fact might mitigate his culpability,” Justice Margaret Chutich wrote in today’s decision.

But that fact does not distinguish Rund’s crime from the typical case. His offense was recklessly threatening a crime of violence. An offender who disregards the risk of causing terror is unlikely to intend to carry out his reckless threat. Accordingly, it would be rare, rather than typical, for an offender in Rund’s position to intend to follow through on his threats. Rund’s lack of intent to carry out his threats does not make his crime substantially less serious than the typical case.

Chutich said Rund’s remorse did not lessen the offense. She also rejected his attorney’s claim that Twitter threats are less serious.

“We recognize that some users of social media may make more exaggerated or extravagant statements than they would in other contexts, and the forum certainly allows a user to post these types of statements, including a real threat, instantly without much deliberation,” she acknowledged.

But, she added, “Rund did not send one misguided tweet; he tweeted five separate times, including a threat to use a grenade to kill police officers. He used Twitter to threaten multiple police officers simultaneously, which made his conduct more severe than a threat against a single person.

“He also used Twitter’s ‘mention’ mechanism to increase the likelihood that the targets of his threats would actually see them,” she wrote.

Chutich vacated the sentence, sent the case back to district court where a new sentence will put a felony on his record and brand him a terrorist in the eyes of the law.

And it all started because he drove eight miles an hour over the speed limit.

  • Rob

    //It all started when he went 8 mph over the speed limit.//

    Not quite. IMHO, it started when he nursed his grudge, got drunk and went on Twitter.

    • Nope.

      If he doesn’t speed, he doesn’t get stopped, if he doesn’t get stopped, he doesn’t argue with the trooper, if he doesn’t argue with the trooper, the trooper doesn’t end up searching his trunk, if the trooper doesn’t end up searching his trunk, he doesn’t lose his marijuana, if he doesn’t lose his marijuana, he doesn’t go get mad, if he doesn’t get mad, he doesn’t nurse his grudge with booze, if he doesn’t nurse his grudge with booze, he doesn’t go on twitter, if he doesn’t go on twitter, he doesn’t tweet threats, if he doesn’t tweet threats, he doesn’t get his door kicked in, if he doesn’t get his door kicked in, he doesn’t get arrested and charged with making terroristic threats, if he doesn’t make terroristic threats, he doesn’t end up a felon.

      • Rob

        No disagreement that lack of impulse control is where everything went south.

      • Joe

        True but you can go back further. It all started with a trip to the grocery store. Or further back: it all started when he got his license. Or further yet: It all started when his mother asked out his father at the 7-eleven.

      • Postal Customer

        Nope. You can trace that back a million years.

        • Not from a legal perspective you can’t. The chain of events starts with the probable cause that led him to be detained by police.

          There’s no culpability attached to going to the grocery store. The very first moment he invited the intervention of the law was the minute he went over the speed limit.

          There’s no culpability in anything that happened a million years ago, either. Obviously.

          • KTN

            But any probable cause to be pulled over didn’t apply to looking in the trunk, and that was the kids first mistake – he should have politely refused this fishing by the police. No weed, no felony.

      • Williams

        Why do you assume it’s because of a speeding ticket? I have read all of the reports and they all mention it’s because of a speeding ticket it may have been after a speeding ticket but I have a hard time believeing it was because of a speeding ticket maybe you should interview the kid Bob it’s always good to get two sides to a story before you go spewing stuff. Obviously he was a idiot but if you actually read the report he’s in graduate school so he can’t be that stupid it would be nice to find out what really happened don’t you think bob?

        • I didn’t say it was all because of a speeding ticket. I said it all STARTED with a speeding ticket.

          • Williams

            It just seems odd to me that all of this has always been placed on a speeding ticket maybe he does get very very very mad over speeding tickets hahaha i think not, it would be nice to hear his side, I feel bad for the kid he seems to have gotten his life together and this is all still going on 4 years later.

          • Yes. He had a bad night and did something stupid and it’s gonna be on his life forever. It’s very sad. The judge was right: There are too many people walking around with felony convictions.

          • Williams

            What do you believe is the difference in these cases?

            One young man with ISIS affiliation threatened to murder a judge in minneapolis and FBI agent in 2015 and by 2016 had already been sentenced to a misdemeanor with no appeal.

            The other young man with a criminal score of 0 made threats in 2014 also on twitter but were much less serious for instance his tweet “throw a grenade in the room watch all you coppers kaboom” this is a song lyric from a gucci mane song and why is his case just getting wrapped up in 2017 if he served four months in jail back in 2016.

            One young man committed the crime as a 19 year old and wasn’t sentenced until he was 23

            The other was 19 when he committed the crime and was 20 when he was sentenced what is this about???

            I just am very very curious why one young man was let off so easily and another young man was screwed.

            http://www.startribune.com/minneapolis-man-pleads-guilty-in-isil-related-twitter-threats-case/371410981/

          • I already answered that question. One was tried in federal court under federal law. One was tried in state court under state law.

          • Williams

            Well they are in the state Bob

          • Right, the circumstances seem similar. The state is he same, but you’re asking about the outcome and wondering why they’re different. They’re different because they’re in two separate judicial systems, answering to two different laws.

  • KTN

    I think the court got it wrong. There has to be a very clear line between speech, even threats, and the ability to carry through with those threats. Saying you want the President to be shot, or even that you want to shoot the President is most likely protected speech – unless they find a detailed plan on how you are going to follow up on the threat.
    Just saying something, or Tweeting it is a far distance from being able to accomplish that threat.
    Regardless, young and dumb is right.

    • I’d love to find some background on the law and what prompted it and compare it to how it’s applied today. It took effect on July 1, 1970, so it’s not related to modern-day terrorism. I wonder what happened in 1969 in MN that led a lawmaker to add this ? Would be a fascinating thing.

      • Jerry

        The assassinations of ’68? The SLA?

      • Mike

        Just a guess: the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969 that the First Amendment protected speech advocating the use of violence.

        • But a state law can’t overrule SCOTUS.

          • Mike

            The state law may stop short of overstepping the Brandenburg ruling. This is where an ACLU attorney’s perspective would come in handy. The devil is in the details.

      • 212944

        The Weather Underground activities of ’69 and early ’70 included some bombings pretty close to home as well (they blew up the Haymarket Police Memorial not once, not twice but three times … though only once before the July 1, 1970, Minnesota law).

        But they did bomb and kill elsewhere in the U.S. and declare a “declaration of war” against the U.S. government in May of ’70 … which surely got some attention in St. Paul.

        • But I doubt this was motivated by any actual criminal acts. They were already against the law.This , I suspect, would have been the result of something involving threats.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        From the MPR archives: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2006/04/21/morrillhall

        1969 was the year of the Morrill Hall takeover.

    • Williams

      I also think they got it wrong, you give judges the ability to make judgment calls and when the state doesn’t like their judgement they appeal and appeal until they finally get the outcome they want. Why even have judges if this is how it is? Saying your going to blow someone up with a grenade is not a threat unless if you have a grenade i. Your hand. It is amazing that to assault and officer would be a gross misdemeanor but to threaten one is a felony. It seems like they have it out for this kid considering how they treat other similar cases
      http://m.startribune.com/minneapolis-man-pleads-guilty-in-isil-related-twitter-threats-case/371410981/

      • They do have the ability to make judgment calls, but it has to be within the range of sentencing guidelines and the judgement calls have to be related to the offense under Minnesota law.

        The case you cited in your link is a federal case, not bound by Minnesota law.

  • Evan

    Slight correction. A 365 day sentence would be a gross misdemeanor disposition, not a misdemeanor (90 days).

    As for the departure, the court ruled that it was improper because the trial judge did not find “offense-based” reasons for the dispositional departure but rather only put “offender-based” reasons on the record, which are used for durational departures only.

    • Deborah

      I think the point about being “offender based” instead of “offense-based” is very important. This is one place racial disparities can loom large. Would a judge look at a young African-American man and come to the same conclusions that it was just a moment of bad judgment and should not ruin a whole life? I am afraid that the data from courts and sentencing say that reaction would be much less likely. So I can understand why the emphasis for deviating from sentencing laws should be focused on the offense and not the offender

      • I think that’s exactly right, and I think that in large part is why there are sentencing guidelines.

        • Williams

          Great point Deborah! Unfortunately as you can see this African American with relation to isis threatened to murder an FBI agent and a judge on twitter who were investigating him. As you can see they let him off very easy with a misdemeanor and probation. So why does this kid with a zero crime score get taken through the ranks put in jail for four months and appealed at every level until someone will finally give him a felony. It appears to me he is getting the short end of the stick.

          • One case was a federal case . One case was a state case. Different rules. Different laws.

      • Williams
  • Zachary

    Lesson here: Don’t speed ‘n tweet. (Tweed? Spweet?)
    Oh, and don’t make terroristic threats.

    • jon

      It’s not just speeding and tweeting… it’s speeding with marijuana and then tweeting… Spweed.

  • Zachary

    From Justice Chutuch:
    “…Rund’s lack of intent to carry out his threats does not make his crime substantially less serious than the typical case.”

    Does a lack of ability to harm make a difference? Not lack of intent – but actual ability to. Hypothetically speaking, if his ‘threat’ was something along the lines of: “F the police, imma gonna use my moon-based doomsday laser and nuke you from orbit” does that carry ‘less’ seriousness than what he said about grenades?

    • jon

      It sounds like no. Terroristic threats as a Crime is the threat, not the ability to carry it out, nor the intent to carry it out… So saying “I’m going to use my space based laser (which required a substantial amount of diamonds to make) to blow up the 35w bridge” is the same as “I’m going to kill a bunch of cops.”

      Edit: to clarify I’m not going to use my space based laser to take out the 35w bridge, nor am I planning to kill any cops… There are quotes there!
      Besides my space based laser was originally designed to function as a component of a complete weather dominator system; it idea of targeting it with out all of the components of the weather dominator is preposterous!

      • Zachary

        I guess what I was asking was if the lack of ability would have made this less noticeable as a threat? i.e. people reading it would not have taken it as a threat, and then more likely to just brush it off as the ramblings of an angry drunk guy.

        • jon

          From the standpoint of the court I don’t think it makes a difference, from the standpoint of if the police will will choose to enforce the law, and if the prosecutor will choose to file charges… that is a question for the prosecutor and police officer, they get some discretion, the judge apparently doesn’t.

          • I would tend to disagree, although I’ll leave it to the few lawyers here, other than to say the court made clear that the problem with the factors that the judge considered is they didn’t mitigate culpability.

            But if you have no ability to carry out a threat in an intended manner, I would think that’s a factor that relates directly to culpability and, therefore, could be considered in sentencing departure.

          • jon

            The judge said he didn’t have a gun (and presumable no grenades, though I don’t see that explicitly stated).

            And the supreme court still threw it back.

            Granted his threat didn’t say “I’m going to shoot cops” (though one of them did says “grenade”) instead it said “I’m going to hunt cops” which I suppose could be done with a kitchen knife, or a bow and arrow… but killing 5 (potentially armed) cops, in a night, seems like a tall order for anything shy of a gun or a bomb.

    • I thibnk everything, in terms of a judge’s discretion, makes a difference, but only within the range of the sentencing guidelines. For example, I presume the sentence he will get will be at the low end — possibly the lowest end — of the acceptable range of sentences.

      • Williams

        What if the threats were used in rap lyrics like his tweet about throwing a grenade in the room and watching you coppers kaboom? This is a Gucci mane rap lyric

      • Williams

        As it should be he already went to jail for 4 months which is two months more then the state asked. And to threaten someone with a dang grenade shouldn’t be considered a threat unless if you have a grenade. My opinion it all seems like empty spewing after a long back and forth relationship with police I’d love to hear from him about what happened.

  • AmiSchwab

    a nice way to ruin a life

    • What’s interesting to me is the actual jail time and sentence was relatively the same between the state and defense as near as I can tell. But apparently the issue (beyond the legal question) was whether he’d have a felony record.

      The fact that Supreme Court decisions carry the weight of precedent, perhaps, means an example was made of this dumb kid because otherwise the decision could be used by someone in the future not nearly as dumb and, perhaps, more evil, I guess.

      • AmiSchwab

        question. who brought this back up after 4 years and was the guy in trouble again?

        • Nobody brought it back up, it worked its way through the appellate courts. The Court of Appeals ruled last year, it was heard at the Supreme Court this year and the opinion was released today.

          • AmiSchwab

            wow justice never sleeps

        • KTFoley

          He was stopped on February 4, 2014.

          He worked with a psychologist for a year and a half before the sentencing.

          The sentencing departure was appealed.

          The Court of Appeals affirmed the departure in August 2016.

          The State Supreme Court filed its decision in June 2017.

          Nobody “brought this back up after 4 years” — we just have an expectation that the legal system moves at some other speed than it does.

      • Williams

        District court gave him 120 days and a gross misdemeanor the state asked for 60 days and a felony. I think the extra jail time and a gross misdemeanor would have been fine for this no reason to appeal this over the last 3 years he’s 23 now and this happened when he was 19 he already spent four months in jail? Let it go, Harrison obviously has he obviously learned his lesson we haven’t heard of him in 4 years?

  • Al

    That’d be terrorism, y’all.

  • Jerry

    I am curious from a legal standpoint if the consequences would have been as serious if he had subtweeted the police federation or at least didn’t @ them.

    • joetron2030

      What if he hadn’t used Twitter’s mention feature and just used the string “STP PD” or similar? What if he had just used the generic “cops”?

      I think the fact that he went through the hassle to find the Twitter handle for the STP PD Federation says a lot about his intent.

      • Williams

        It’s not a hassle to tag someone all you have to do is type stpaulpd and it automatically pops up