Minnesota’s court of last resort Wednesday reversed the felony and misdemeanor convictions of a Scott County juvenile after ruling the laws he was convicted under are too broad, on First Amendment grounds.
In other words, the way Minnesota’s stalking and harassment laws are written made the cyberbullying case difficult to prosecute without infringing on the minor’s free speech rights.
According to John Arechigo, the defense attorney who fought to bring the case before the State Supreme Court, inking laws that constitutionally cover cyberbullying is a monumental challenge.
"Speech has a fundamental protection under the First Amendment and in its opinion, that’s what the Supreme Court was recognizing here," explains Arechigo.
Arechigo’s client in 2016 created a "tweet storm of 40 posts,” targeting a student with autism, because he “wanted to teach [him] a lesson.”
The court said, "Essentially all of the tweets posted contained cruel and egregious insults… and go beyond any measure of human decency"
"Our position is essentially that’s public speech and if you’re not threatening to actually hurt somebody then it cannot be prosecuted," said Arechigo.
Arechigo's client was convicted of felony and gross misdemeanor stalking and misdemeanor harassment. All of those convictions are now reversed on First Amendment grounds.
"It sends a message to kids that this type of behavior will be tolerated and not to be found illegal," said Phil Villaume, attorney at law.
Villaume argues to protect bullying victims.
"The courts civilly will find that there is no freedom of speech when it comes to bullying, especially in the schools," said Villaume.
And this is where both sides can call a truce, as both Arechigo and Villaume say, the case was better handled by the school or civil court.
"They can pursue some civil remedies, they can try to get restraining orders to prevent somebody from contacting somebody or talking about somebody there’s a handful of other remedies that should’ve been used," said Arechigo.
The case will now go back to Juvenile Court to explore a re-defined harassment statute. If the court says there's enough evidence to convict on the misdemeanor harassment charge, it will be re-entered.