granted this interlocutory appeal to address whether the
formerversion of OCGA § 16-11-37 (a),
Georgia's Terroristic Threats statute, is
unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. For the reasons that
follow, we affirm the judgment of the trial court that the
statute is constitutional.
stipulated facts show that in September 2014 Appellant Devon
Major, who was a student at Lanier Career Academy, posted the
following message on his Facebook page:
Bruh, LCA ain't a school. Stop coming here. All y'all
ain't going to graduate early. Why? Because there are too
many of y'all f***ers to even get on a computer. I swear,
and there's so much drama here now, Lord, please save me
before, o (sic) get the chopper out and make Columbine look
after the statement was published, a resource officer at
Major's school saw the post and contacted law
enforcement. Officers then contacted Major who admitted
posting the statement. He was arrested and indicted for
threatening to commit a crime of violence against another
"in reckless disregard of causing such terror" in
violation of OCGA § 16-11-37.
subsequently filed a pre-trial demurrer/motion to quash
challenging the indictment, alleging that former OCGA §
16-11-37 (a) was unconstitutional on its face and as applied
to him because it violated Major's First Amendment right
to free speech and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due
process. The trial court denied the motion, finding the
statute to be constitutional, but granted Major a certificate
of immediate review. Major filed an application for
interlocutory appeal, which we granted inquiring as to
whether former OCGA § 16-11-37 (a) is unconstitutionally
void for vagueness and overbreadth because it permits
conviction based on recklessness.
first argues that former OCGA § 16-11-37 (a) is
overbroad as it unconstitutionally permits prosecution for
protected speech. Generally, "[t]he First Amendment
means that government has no power to restrict expression
because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its
content." (Citation and punctuation omitted.)
Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 535 U.S.
564, 573 (122 S.Ct. 1700, 152 L.Ed.2d 771) (2002); accord
Final Exit Network, Inc. v. State of Georgia, 290
Ga. 508 (722 S.E.2d 722) (2012). The United States Supreme
Court has recognized a few narrowly defined forms of
expression that are categorically excluded from First
Amendment protection, see United States v. Alvarez,
567 U.S. 709 (132 S.Ct. 2537, 183 L.Ed.2d 574) (2012)
(enumerating categories of historically unprotected speech,
such as defamation, obscenity, and fraud), which include the
communicating of "true threats, " see Virginia
v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (III) (A) (123 S.Ct. 1536, 155
L.Ed.2d 535 (2003).
content-based laws regulating speech that are not included in
these narrow categories of unprotected speech are subject to
"exacting scrutiny." (Citation omitted.) West
v. State, 300 Ga. 39, 40 (793 S.E.2d 57) (2016). Indeed,
"[s]uch restrictions are only valid if they are
'narrowly drawn and represent a considered legislative
judgment that a particular mode of expression has to give way
to other compelling needs of society.'" Id.
(citing Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U.S. 601, 611 (93
S.Ct. 2908, 37 L.Ed.2d 830) (1973); State v.
Fielden, 280 Ga. 444 (629 S.E.2d 252 (2006)).
the State clearly seeks to regulate threats to commit any
crime of violence. Such a prohibition "'protect[s]
individual[s] from the fear of violence' and 'from
the disruption that fear engenders, ' in addition to
protecting people 'from the possibility that the
threatened violence will occur.'" Black,
538 U.S. at 360. See also R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul,
Minn., 505 U.S. 377, 388 (112 S.Ct. 2538, 120 L.Ed.2d
305) (1992) ("threats of violence are outside the First
Amendment"). Furthermore, the government may regulate or
completely ban speech proposing illegal activity. Village
of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, Inc.,
455 U.S. 489 (III) (102 S.Ct. 1186, 71 L.Ed.2d 362) (1982).
"We nonetheless have the obligation to ensure that, in
its zeal to promote this worthy aim, our legislature has not
unwittingly curtailed legitimate modes of expression in a
real and substantial way." Scott v. State, 299
Ga. 568, 575 (788 S.E.2d 468) (2016). "With these
principles in mind, we begin our analysis, applying a de novo
standard of review to the judgment of the trial court."
West, 300 Ga. at 42.
assess the extent of a statute's effect on protected
expression, a court must determine what the statute actually
covers. Accordingly, the first step in any overbreadth
analysis is to construe the statute in question."
(Citations omitted.) Scott, 299 Ga. at 570. Pursuant
to the rules of statutory construction, we
presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said
what it meant. To that end, we must afford the statutory text
its plain and ordinary meaning, we must view the statutory
text in the context in which it appears, and we must read the
statutory text in its most natural and reasonable way, as an
ordinary speaker of the English language would.
(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Deal v.
Coleman, 294 Ga. 170, 172-173 (1) (a) (751 S.E.2d 337)
(2013). If the statutory text is "'clear and
unambiguous, ' we attribute to the statute its plain
meaning, and our search for ...