The 1st Circuit upholds the law, making it a crime to ridicule people with false claims

First Amendment

The 1st Circuit upholds the law, making it a crime to ridicule people with false claims

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A federal appeals court has upheld a New Hampshire law that makes it a crime to knowingly make false statements that subject another person to “public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.”

The 1st United States Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston dismissed a challenge by Robert Frese in a Decision of November 8.

Judge Jeffrey Howard wrote the panel’s opinion, while Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson argued in a settlement that the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn precedent upholding criminal defamation laws.

“In my view,” said Thompson, “criminal defamation laws — even those that require knowledge of the falsehood of speech — simply cannot be reconciled with our Democratic ideals of vigorous debate and free speech without hindrance.

Frese has twice been charged with breaking New Hampshire law.

Frese’s most recent arrest was by police in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 2018. He was charged over online allegations that a retired cop was the ‘dirtiest cop’ and “the most corrupt” he ever had “the displeasure of knowing”. He also claimed that the officer’s daughter was a prostitute.

The police department dropped the charges after the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office concluded there was no evidence that Frese knew his statements were false.

Frese was previously sued in 2012 for claiming on Craigslist that a life coach’s business was a scam and that the person was involved in a road rage incident and distributing heroin.

Frese sued in late 2018 after the charges were dropped. He was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. He argued in an amended complaint that the criminal defamation law violated the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment.

The 1st Circuit rejected Frese’s arguments, citing the 1964 Supreme Court case Garrison v. Louisiana. The ruling upheld the criminalization of false speech and said criminal penalties could be imposed for statements that are false or made with reckless disregard to find out if they are false.

The appeals court also found that the law was “not unconstitutionally vague” because it provided adequate guidelines for law enforcement and sufficiently clear advice.

The case is Frese vs. Formella.

According to Courthouse News Service case coverage, 13 states still have criminal defamation laws. These are Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

According to the article, “another dozen or so states” make hate speech against minorities a crime.

Other publications covering the opinion include the Volokh conspiracy and Law and crime.


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