Man Acquitted of Making Threats Against Federal Agents

The FBI filed federal charges against a 34-year-old Morton Grove man who they claimed made threats to kill FBI agents over the phone. However, Matthew Berger was acquitted of all five charges of sending threatening communications to a federal officer. 

Berger has an interesting rap sheet. He has been in federal custody since his arraignment in December and will now be transferred to a Cook County facility for allegedly pulling a fire alarm in a police station. 

The ‘Guy is Annoying but Didn’t Commit a Crime’ Defense

His attorneys successfully argued that Berger was annoying, but did not do anything that actually constitutes a crime. According to the complaint, Berger showed up at an FBI office and attempted unsuccessfully to break in. He also told a female employee, presumably of the FBI, that he was going “to get” the FBI. Then he pointed at the flagpole and prognosticated that all the flags would be Russian soon and he was going to kill the employee and Americans. Berger proceeded to knock on a back door and when an employee opened it, he tried to force his way in. The employee was able to slam the door shut.

Berger also allegedly made a threat against the FBI in 2017 when he told a telephone operator that “we were just wondering if we needed to kill you.” In at least two such other calls, he identified himself by name.

Understanding the Law

At this point in time, making threats against federal law officers or threatening to kill a bunch of people is not advisable, but Berger is clearly not in his right mind. Most people, including the FBI, would have recognized this. 

While his actions may not have constituted a crime, the federal agents are within their rights to prosecute it as such. The defendant’s main goal appears to be to irritate law enforcement as much as he possibly can. However disturbed or unhinged he may be, law enforcement will always take direct threats against them seriously, even when the defendant is obviously mentally ill.

First Amendment Protections

A First Amendment defense would not have been workable in this situation. While some believe that freedom of speech constitutes broad-scale protection against any speech, the Supreme Court has held that direct threats, calls to violence, and other forms of speech are not protected. You cannot claim a First Amendment defense if you threaten violence against anyone. In fact, a charge of assault does not require that you make direct physical contact with anyone. You only have to make a credible threat that a reasonable person would infer indicates an imminent threat of violence. 

Talk to Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you have threatened to kill FBI agents and random Americans, then you need an attorney who understands how sometimes these threats are not credible. In these cases, the situation is better handled by the mental health system rather than the criminal justice system. Call David Freidberg today at (312) 560-7100.