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December 2nd, 2008, 10:00 AM #1
Colo. man charged with libel over Craigslist posts -New precedent being set?
- Join Date
- February 13th, 2006
- Boca Raton
Colo. man charged with libel over Craigslist posts
Tue Dec 2, 5:57 am ETFORT COLLINS, Colo. – A man accused of making unflattering online comments about his former lover and her attorney on Craigslist has been charged with two counts of criminal libel.
"It's not a charge you see a lot of," Larimer County District Attorney Larry Abrahamson said of the 1800s-era state law that can put people in jail for the content of their speech or writing.
Abrahamson charged J.P. Weichel, 40, of Loveland, in October over posts he allegedly made on Craigslist's "Rants and Rave" section.
The case began when a woman told Loveland police in December 2007 about postings made about her between November and December 2007. Court records show posts that suggested she traded sexual acts for legal services from her attorney and mentioned a visit from child services because of an injury to her child.
Police obtained search warrants for records from Web sites including Craigslist before identifying Weichel as the suspect. Weichel shares a child with the woman.
Weichel, confronted by detectives at his workplace in August, said he was "just venting," according to court records.
No phone listing could be found for Weichel, and his attorney, Michael Liggett of Fort Collins, didn't immediately return a message left Monday by The Associated Press.
Libel is commonly seen as a civil case. Denver attorney Steve Zansberg, who specializes in First Amendment law, said prosecutors seeking criminal libel cases could have a "chilling" effect on free speech in Colorado, particularly over the Internet.
Abrahamson wasn't so sure. He said it is up to police departments to pursue cases.
Zansberg contends the law is outdated, is unclear about stating opinions and is written in such a way that dead people could be victims of criminal libel.
The statute allows prosecution for speech "tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead" or to "expose the natural defects of one who is alive, and thereby to expose him to public hatred, contempt or ridicule." Criminal libel carries a punishment of up to 18 months in prison.
So does this set a new precedent for what can and cannot be said "legally" on online forums and other sites that allow "free" speech?
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December 2nd, 2008, 10:07 AM #2
The defense against libel (or slander) is the "truth." The part about the visit from Protective Services should be verifiable (if it is true). However, the rest of the "stuff" might be difficult to document.
December 2nd, 2008, 10:24 AM #3
I think a more important comment to be made is:
Just because you might have the legal privilege or right to post something on a website doesn't mean that you should.
With the number of attorneys looking for work these days, and the litigious nature of people, especially former lovers, wives, husbands, etc... why take unnecessary risks that only bring short term gratification?
We all know that the law has become (and maybe always was) a slippery slope scenario. People need to be smart about what they do.
December 2nd, 2008, 10:59 AM #4
- Join Date
- November 18th, 2008
I find it surprising that any state has criminal libel laws any more. Most states had them at some a century ago, but fighting 1st amendment cases has been the go to fight for lawyers for so long, I would have thought they got them all knocked down.
I am sure if he fights it long enough, the state courts will overturn this law like other states have.
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