By Kassity Liu
Third Circuit Dismisses “Sexting” Charges Against Minor
On March 18, the WSJ Law Blog reported that the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dismissed charges against a teenage girl for distributing sexually explicit images of herself. The court had originally stated that they would address whether the First Amendment protects minors from sending these types of images of themselves through their cells phones, but the court refused to consider this issue in the case. Instead, the three-judge panel concluded that the prosecutor could not charge her for appearing in a sexually explicit photo without evidence that she had helped to distribute it. The court’s ruling appears to protect minors from liability for “sexting,” the act of “sending or posting sexually suggestive text messages and images . . . via cellular telephones or over the internet,” so long as there is “no evidence as to whether that person possessed or transmitted the photo.” The case name is Miller v. Mitchell, No. 09-2144 (3d. Cir. Mar. 17, 2010).
California Appeals Court Holds Threatening Online Speech is not Protected
On March 18, Wired reported that a California appeals court held that hateful and threatening online speech was not protected by the First Amendment. The father of the student who was targeted by the online postings had sued six students and their parents after hearing from the police that the threatening comments posted to his son’s website were protected forms of speech and could not be criminally prosecuted. One of the defendant students claimed that he had made the comments jokingly and did not seriously intend them to be harmful. However, the appellate court refused to accept this defense and instead upheld a lower court’s finding that the defendant had failed to “demonstrate that the posted message is free speech.” The majority judges felt that the defendant’s posting was “a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily harm” both because the posting contained a clear threat and the defendant student spent ample time writing it. The case name is D.C. v. R.R., No. BC332406 (Cal. Sup. Ct. Mar. 15, 2010).
Science Journalist fights libel suit in effort to campaign for British libel law reform
On March 15, the Citizen Media Law Project reported that science journalist Simon Singh has given up his Guardian column to fight a libel lawsuit that the British Chiropractic Association (“BCA”) brought against him for writing an article that denounced some of the BCA’s medical claims. Singh plans on using his case to campaign for British libel law reform, which currently places the entire burden of proving the truth of an allegedly libelous statement on the defendant. The lawsuit, which has been ongoing for two years, has garnered a significant amount of public attention and generated some talks of reform within the British Parliament. Last May, an English court had ruled that Singh would have to prove that the BCA was being “consciously dishonest” when it made the medical claims that Singh had called “bogus” in his article. Singh has appealed this ruling and foresees that his case could “easily continue for another two years.”