Court finds Minnesota's criminal defamation law unconstitutional

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled the state's criminal defamation law is unconstitutional. The case reviewed by the court concerned a man who published sexually-explicit ads on Craigslist to retaliate against his girlfriend after a fight.

Why the law was ruled unconstitutional

In the opinion released Tuesday, the court reasoned that the law criminalizes true statements, despite the Minnesota Supreme Court requiring a statement be false in order to impose liability.

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 court passed on an attempt to "narrowly" construe the statute, saying doing so "would require a rewrite" of the statute.

While the opinion called the man's behavior "reprehensible and defamatory," the court concluded it could not uphold his conviction "under an unconstitutional statute."

The case concerned Minnesota's statute that makes defamation a crime. The ability to sue someone for defamation is not changed by the ruling because it requires a different standard than the criminal statute.

The case

In August 2013, an Isanti County man made sexually-explicit posts on Craigslist, pretending to be his girlfriend and her minor daughter. The posts included cell phone numbers, leading to phone calls from men seeking sex, as well as sexually-explicit text messages. Timothy Turner eventually admitted to publishing the posts because he was mad.

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