Minnesota’s defamation law was struck down in May on the basis that it could be used to unfairly infringe upon free speech rights.
The decision was made after the state’s Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of a man who’d added a post on Craigslist – posing as his ex-girlfriend and her 17-year-old daughter on the site’s personals section as revenge after a bitter fight.
Timothy Robert Turner’s actions were discovered when the woman and girl began receiving explicit messages in response to the ad.
According to a story from the Star Tribune, Judge Denise Reilly called the Turner’s behavior “reprehensible and defamatory” in the ruling, despite setting aside the conviction. And although the man’s actions were clearly wrong and something he’d admitted to, his lawyer, John Archechigo, was successfully able to argue that his client’s actions didn’t matter because the law that the conviction was based upon was too broad.
“This type of challenge, it wasn’t necessarily advocating for the type of behavior that the defendant engaged in,” Arechigo noted, via a report from the Associated Press.
Not Designed for the Internet Age
In the meantime, the decision could leave state government scrambling to pass new legislation aimed at punishing impersonators who use the Internet – something that obviously wasn’t taken into account upon the defamation law’s passage back in 1963.
The law had allowed prosecutors to go after those who’d made true statements – something that today is considered a clear violation of the 1st amendment.
When initially looking to prosecute Turner, prosecutors were on the fence as to which charge should apply to the case – at one point, even considering pursuing him for disorderly conduct, something they ultimately decided didn’t fit the crime.
Turner, meanwhile, appears to be off the hook as charging him under a different law would be considered double jeopardy. Prosecutors, however, could appeal to the state court in a bid to bring back the conviction in its current form.