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The United States of Crazy: You Can Now Go to Jail for a Sarcastic Facebook Comment

An 18-year-old was jailed because a Canadian woman reported a single, frivolous Facebook post that he had marked "LOL."

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Also on March 13, the police in New Braunfels applied for a search warrant to go into Carter's apartment there. In the search, the police found no weapons, explosives, manifestos of violence, or anything else to support the idea that the Facebook post was a real threat. The only evidence the police took from the apartment was Carter's computer. A week later, the Comal County Court in New Braunfels issued an arrest warrant for Carter, who was still in jail.

During that same period, the state transferred Carter from jail in Austin to jail in New Braunfels, because that's where he lived on February 13, and that's where he was when he made the critical post. The state also asked the court to raise Carter's bail to $500,000, and the court granted the increase, even though Carter's parents were unable to raise enough to meet bail at half that level.

At some point, the court appointed an attorney to represent Carter because he couldn't afford one. On April 10, a grand jury indicted Carter for making a "terroristic threat," a third degree felony under Texas state statute 22.07(a)(4-6), even though there's no credible evidence that he meets any of the law's six criteria for intent. Without intent, as defined by law, there is no crime. The charge carries a potential penalty of 2-10 years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000.

Some Indictments, as Is Well Known, Are Works of Fiction

The indictment claims that Carter intended - with a trash talk Facebook post to a stranger - to "cause impairment or interruption of public communications, public transportation, public water, gas, or power supply or other public service; place the public or a substantial group of the public in fear of serious bodily injury; or influence the conduct or activities of a branch or agency of the federal government, the state, or a political subdivision of the state."

In May, Carter's court-appointed lawyer waived formal arraignment and a few weeks later Carter turned nineteen.

The prosecutor in the case, the Comal County Criminal District Attorney, is Jennifer Tharp, the first female prosecutor in the county. She was elected with about 81% of the vote in an uncontested race in 2011. The second oldest of 11 children, she described herself this way in campaign literature:

I was born and raised in Comal County, my husband Dan was raised here, and almost all our immediate family live in this county. My husband and I will raise our two sons here and I am personally vested in making sure that our county remains as safe as it was when my husband and I grew up here. We have wonderful memories of growing up enjoying the freedoms that come from living in a safe community. My mission as Criminal District Attorney will be to fight to preserve those freedoms.

County Prosecutor Jennifer Tharp Seemed to Want to Look Tough

She has taken a hard line on the Carter case, avoiding public comment and showing little sympathy for any of the case's anomalies. At some point she offered Carter a plea bargain: a sentence of only eight years. Carter turned it down.

Carter tuned it down even though he continued to be assaulted and battered in jail. His father Jack Carter told NPR on July 3:

Without getting into the really nasty details, he's had concussions, black eyes, moved four times from base for his own protection. He's been put in solitary confinement, nude, for days on end because he's depressed. All of this is extremely traumatic to this kid. This is a horrible experience.

Justin Carter is currently being held in solitary confinement, on suicide watch.