Minn. court strikes down criminal defamation law in overturning conviction of Craigslist revenge poster

May 26, 2015
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Boyfriend’s revenge post is protected speech.

The man’s ex-girlfriend and her daughter received text messages and pornographic photos seeking sex.

Minnesota court strikes down criminal defamation law in overturning conviction of Craigslist revenge poster

A man convicted of criminal defamation for posting sexually explicit comments on Craigslist, purportedly by his former girlfriend and her minor daughter, won a reversal Tuesday from the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which struck down a 52-year-old state law.

A three-judge panel from the Appeals Court ruled the 1963 criminal defamation law unconstitutional, saying it had the potential to criminalize true statements, which are protected under the First Amendment right to free speech. The court also said that the law rendered the standard for conviction in criminal law less stringent than the legal threshold for winning a civil case.

The court also said the statute improperly criminalizes certain statements made about public concerns. Courts have interpreted the Constitution as requiring “actual malice” in order to impose liability for statements made about public matters. Therefore, the Court of Appeals said the state’s criminal defamation statute needed to require “actual malice” for these statements to make the law constitutional.

The case drew the attention of legal blogger and professor Eugene Volokh, who submitted a brief on Turner’s behalf. He argued that even true statements can be prosecuted under the Minnesota law, something Reilly said “chills” free speech.

In a 13-page order (pdf) written by Judge Denise Reilly, the court called Timothy Robert Turner’s behavior “reprehensible and defamatory,” but set aside his Isanti County District Court conviction.

In August 2013, Turner posted ads on Craigslist in retaliation for an argument he had with a former girlfriend. The sexually explicit postings purportedly came from his ex-girlfriend and her minor daughter. He also posted the cellphone numbers for the two.

As a result, several men contacted them seeking sex and some sent pornographic images to the minor daughter, the ruling said.

Turner, who declined an interview request Tuesday, admitted he published the ads, saying he was angry at his ex and her daughter. The Isanti County prosecutor charged him with two counts of defamation. He waived his right to a jury trial and agreed to submit a set of facts to Isanti County Judge Amy Brosnahan for her to decide the case. She convicted Turner and he appealed.

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