Skip to main content

Minnesota court strikes down state's defamation law

  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

A Minnesota man's posting of sexually explicit comments about his ex-girlfriend on Craigslist was "reprehensible" but not illegal, according to a ruling Tuesday from the Minnesota Court of Appeals which struck down the state's criminal defamation law.

The case

The three-judge panel overturned the criminal conviction of Timothy Robert Turner on defamation charges. Turner, 50, of Mora, posted ads on Craigslist in 2013 to retaliate against his girlfriend after they had an argument, the Star Tribune reports.

He wrote the posts pretending to be his girlfriend and her underage daughter, and included their cell phone numbers. As a result, the two received several phone calls from men seeking sex, as well as sexually explicit text messages, according to the court ruling.

Turner admitted he posted the messages and was convicted in 2014 on two counts of criminal defamation in Isanti County. He was sentenced to a fine and 30 days in jail, but that's been on hold while his appeal was underway, according to the Star Tribune.

The ruling

The appeals court overturned Turner's conviction, saying he had a First Amendment right to post the messages, even though his conduct was "reprehensible and defamatory," the ruling noted.

The ruling struck down Minnesota's 52-year-old criminal defamation law, saying it's too broad and criminalizes some forms of speech that are not considered illegal under recent Supreme Court rulings.

The current statute criminalizes "true statements and statements made without 'actual malice.' Because the statute penalizes protected, as well as unprotected speech, it is unconstitutionally overbroad and in violation of First Amendment protections," Judge Denise Reilly wrote.

Judge Reilly noted the Legislature hasn't updated the law since 1963, so it doesn't reflect the "multiple, seminal" rulings that have been made since then which define what speech is legal and what's illegal.

A Minnesota attorney who specializes in free speech issues told the Star Tribune this law has been a “sitting duck constitutionally for decades.” Mark Anfinson said even though some people who are "guilty of very serious behavior" could go unpunished, he said the ruling is important to protect free speech rights under the First Amendment.

In a response to this case, KARE 11 reports a state lawmaker introduced a measure in the recent legislative session to make it a felony to impersonate someone else on social media, as Turner did when he pretended to be his girlfriend.

FOX 9 notes that this ruling involved the state's criminal defamation law. It doesn't change a person's ability to sue someone for defamation in civil court, because those cases are governed by different standards.

The most recent high-profile defamation suit involved former Minn. Gov. Jesse Ventura, who won his case against the estate of Chris Kyle last year when he claimed an anecdote in Kyle's best-selling memoir, "American Sniper," harmed his reputation and caused him lost income

Next Up

covid

Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Thursday, January 27

Cases remain very high but hospitalizations have been plateaued for the past week.

state patrol

Minnesota state trooper injured at crash scene on I-35

The trooper was in his squad when another vehicle struck.

money hundred dollar bills

Charges: Man stole thousands from 3 Twin Cities banks

When he was arrested, police found a folding knife on him.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

Here's what Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said in his first press conference

The 40-year-old former Wall Street trader originally wanted to be an economics professor.

Caucuses

Minnesota DFL to allow non-voters to participate in its caucuses

The party is holding its precinct caucuses this Tuesday.

T Kline Robbinsdale City Council

Council member offers first comments on DWI, fleeing police charges

Prosecutors say he was drunk while fleeing police on the wrong side of the highway.

Seventh Street Truck Park shooting, St. Paul

Charges: Man schemed to illegally buy gun used in Truck Park mass shooting

He's the second person to be charged in connection to the straw-purchasing scheme.

Pexels - face mask covid holding

Walz announces $2 million to distribute KN95 masks in Minnesota

The announcement comes after federal officials have updated guidelines to recommend KN95 and N95 masks.

southwest light rail metro transit construction

Southwest LRT may now cost $2.75B, won't open until 2027

Met Council said last year it would open in 2023.

Aaron Rodgers

Broncos hiring Packers OC sparks speculation Rodgers could follow

What about both Rodgers and Davante Adams teaming up in Denver?

Minneapolis Fire Department

Fire tears through House of Charity building in Minneapolis

The charity serves hundreds of meals to those in need daily.

Related