Did NBA Star Ja Morant commit a crime with his second social media handgun video? Why doesn’t it matter?
Recently, NBA star JA Morant was captured on video once again via a social media account. The sports and national media quickly ran news stories on it and his basketball team, the Memphis Grizzles, suspended him indefinitely. In addition, the NBA, will likely impose a significant game suspension on this young star.
While many have criticized the behavior, Morant committed no crime with his actions which is why local authorities will not take any action against him. The sports media, however, even those who have law degrees, have demanded that Morant receive a substantial game suspension for his actions. Practically, no sports media member have commented on the state of the law in Tennessee with regards to handguns
As of July 1, 2021, Tennessee law permitted citizens to carry a loaded handgun on their person, openly or concealed, without having to possess a permit. In most states, a handgun carry permit (conceal carry) is required to possess a loaded handgun in public, but in Tennessee those persons who meet the following requirements may carry a handgun, either openly or concealed:
- The subject is 21 or older (18+ if active military service or honorably discharged);
- The subject is in lawful possession of the handgun; and
- The subject is in a place where they are lawfully present.
Unlike Pennsylvania and New Jersey, it is not illegal to conceal carry a handgun in Tennessee outside of your home. A permit is not required and a handgun is not considered concealed when a person is in a private automobile or other private transportation. It is, however, illegal to carry a handgun if you are under the influence of alcohol or engaging in some illegal behavior or conduct
It appears that Morant would satisfy the requirements to open carry this weapon in Tennessee and so media’s issue with Morant is his possession of the gun in vehicle despite no evidence that he was using it any threatening manner or for any unlawful purpose. While I would not endorse Morant’s behavior, there is list of athletes who have posted what some would consider inappropriate or questionable behavior. Athletes and other celebrities who have posted hunting trips or have engaged in what many consider legal but reckless behavior at excessive speeds have been largely ignored by sports leagues and the media. It appears clear that the sports media simply wants to promote its anti-second amendment agenda similar to the ways it promotes its other political positions.
If it isn’t a crime, why can the NBA and the Memphis Grizzles suspend him?
While Ja Morant has not committed any crimes and I have an issue with the way the media has portrayed him, I do not have an issue with NBA or the Memphis Grizzles suspending him. Mr. Morant signed a contract which likely indicated that a suspension could occur if he engaged in conduct which the employers believed was unbecoming or unprofessional in their opinion. This is similar to what occurred with the Deshaun Watson case where he was never prosecuted for any criminal conduct but was still suspended for 8 games. Since this is contractual relationship and not a constitutional right, the only recourse Morant has is to appeal the likely lengthy suspension under the terms of the contract or the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.
While most people believe that these cases arise from conduct which occurs on the street, in a car, or directly by police, there are many cases where the conduct is observed on social media and on applications such as Facebook, Tik Tok, or Instagram.
The internet, smart phones, and applications like YouTube, Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms are not going away, they will likely continue to evolve. Technology which used to confine people to personal computers and laptops is now available practically anywhere at any time.
It isn’t unusual for children as young as 8 or 9 to have smart phones and most teens have at least 1 social media account which allows them to interact with others all over the world! This technology is great, but it also comes with potential consequences which can sometimes follow a young person their entire life.
What crimes that can occur on social media?
People for some reason believe that police cannot charge someone with a crime if the only evidence appears on social media. This is simply NOT true. A video, text, audio or any combination of communication is enough to charge someone with various crimes including the following
- Possession with the intent to deliver illegal drugs or narcotics (Felony)
- Illegal possession of a handgun or firearm (felony)
- Terroristic threats (Felony)
- Harassment (Misdemeanor)
- Sex Offense
Sex Crimes and Social Media – Talk to your kids!
What type of sex crimes are associated with Smart Phone, Smart Devices, and Social Media Accounts?
In Pennsylvania, any person who intentionally views or knowingly possesses a photograph or image of a child under the age of 18 engaging in a prohibited sexual act or the simulation of such an act commits a felony of the 3rd degree under Section 6312(d) and the dissemination of such images to another (through texts, email or social media) under 6312(c) is also a felony offense in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A second offenses or subsequent offense raises the gradation to a felony to a 2nd degree. If a cell phone or some other smart device is used to transmit or possess these images, the prosecution can also bring the crime of criminal use of a communication facility which is a felony of the 3rd degree. There is no obligation for the court, upon conviction, to run sentences concurrently (at the same time).
What if person sending the images was just doing it as a joke or prank?
Our law firm frequently encounters these types of charges where teens and young adults engage in what appears to be some type of prank, bet, or dare. The intent, however, of the actor is irrelevant for the purposes of these charges. Intent becomes relevant in situations where the prosecution attempts to prove additional crimes associated with these actions such as stalking, (a misdemeanor of the 1st degree and/or harassment).
What other potential crimes are associated with Smart Devices and Phones?
Stalking under Section 2709 is committed when a person engages in a course of conduct with the intent to place another person in fear of bodily injury or cause substantial emotional distress. The dissemination of intimate photos will fall within this category. In most situations it is not a felony offenses but it can constitute a felony for a 2nd or subsequent act.
Charges or criminal allegations such as harassment and stalking do not need to involve actual physical contact or need the defendant’s actual presence in the victim’s immediate area.
The prosecution can establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for such charges through social media postings, text messages, and emails. While a crime like harassment under Section 2709 can involve actual physical contact, it is not required! The prosecution is only required to prove a course of conduct which serves no legitimate purpose other than to harass, annoy, or alarms someone else.
Sex Offender Registration
If your child is charged with any of these offenses, it is important that you contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss options. In addition to a criminal conviction and life long convicted felon status, a criminal defendant also faces the requirement to register under the Sexual Offender Registration & Notification Act (SORNA; Megan’s Law before 2012 now the “Adam Walsh Act”). If the person does not register under the act the failure to do so is a felony offense in and of itself under Section 4915.1.
Crimes like child pornography and the dissemination of intimate photographs or images require a 15-year registration (Tier 1 offenses) while more serious offenses like sexual assault, prostitution, sex trafficking require a 25-year registration. Finally, some crimes, such as rape, kidnapping, certain sexual assault, require a lifetime registration.
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