MOUNDSVILLE -The West Virginia Supreme Court has overturned the 2012 conviction of James Scott Yocum in Marshall County Circuit Court for making terrorist threats against a police officer's family.
It is the first case under West Virginia's anti-terrorism statute to be appealed and heard by the justices, according to Prosecutor Jeff Cramer.
Yocum, of Moundsville, was sentenced to one to three years in prison in October 2012 by Marshall County Circuit Judge David W. Hummel for making sexual threats against an officer's family members.
However, the court ruled last week that since Yocum's threats were directed to an individual officer's family members instead of a certain branch or level of government, the threats do not fall within the definition of terrorist activity, according to state law.
West Virginia's anti-terrorism law was enacted in 2001 in direct response to the events of Sept. 11, with the aim to thwart or punish future instances of qualifying acts of terrorism.
Citing a case in New York, in which the New York Court of Appeals ruled violence against a certain gang did not qualify as threats against a civilian population, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled threats against an individual could not constitute as terroristic threats.
The court's opinion notes Yocum could have been charged with intimidation of an officer, which criminalizes the actions of individuals who seek to intimidate or retaliate against public officers and employees by threats of physical force or harassment.
"Instead, the state sought to overreach and punish Mr. Yocum for the type of impulsive empty 'threat' that any seasoned police officer regularly encounters in the course of his duties - a threat that falls well outside the definitional parameters of terrorist activity."
Yocum's attorney, Brent Clyburn, brought the appeal to the state's highest court.
"It's nice to see a healthy injection of common sense into our criminal justice system," Clyburn said.
According to Cramer, Hummel has since acquitted Yocum in accordance with the Supreme Court's ruling.
As a result, the conviction will no longer be on his criminal record.
Still, Clyburn said Yocum served more than a year in prison while the case moved through the appeals process.
Cramer said his office has secured hundreds of felony convictions in his nine years as prosecutor, but he can recall only a few that have been overturned.
He said the court's opinion will provide direction on what will be appropriately charged under that code in the future, noting he has a case similar to Yocum's that will be affected by the Supreme Court's decision. However, Cramer said future threats against officers will not be taken lightly.
"Mr. Yocum's words and actions were offensive to the officer and this office," Cramer said. "While this case was ultimately overturned, we do not regret prosecuting the matter and securing the conviction. I take threats against law enforcement officers and their families with utmost seriousness and will continue to vigorously prosecute the same."
Cramer said Yocum was no longer in the state's custody at the time of the court's decision.