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State v. Turner

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

May 26, 2015

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Timothy Robert Turner, Appellant

Page 205

Isanti County District Court File No. 30-CR-13-657.

SYLLABUS

Minnesota Statutes section 609.765 (2012), which criminalizes defamation, is unconstitutionally overbroad.

For Respondent: Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Jeffrey R. Edblad, Isanti County Attorney, Deanna N. Natoli, Assistant County Attorney, Cambridge, Minnesota.

For Appellant: John Arechigo, Arechigo & Stokka, LLP, St. Paul, Minnesota.

For Electronic Frontier Foundation, Amicus Curiae: Erick G. Kaardal, Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Eugene Volokh, (pro hac vice), UCLA School of Law, Los Angeles, California.

Considered and decided by Reilly, Presiding Judge; Cleary, Chief Judge; and Ross, Judge.

OPINION

Page 206

REILLY, Judge

Appellant Timothy Turner challenges his conviction of criminal defamation, arguing that Minn. Stat. § 609.765 violates First Amendment protections because it is facially overbroad. Because Minn. Stat. § 609.765 is unconstitutionally overbroad and not susceptible to a narrowing construction, we reverse.

FACTS

On the morning of August 30, 2013, appellant posted ads on Craigslist in retaliation for a previous argument he had with former girlfriend C.M. Both postings were sexually explicit and purported to be from C.M. and C.M.'s minor daughter, S.M. The postings contained the cell phone numbers of C.M. and S.M. Because of these postings, multiple men contacted C.M. and S.M., seeking to have sex with them. Additionally, men sent S.M. pornographic images in text messages. Eventually, appellant admitted that he published the postings because he was mad at C.M. and S.M. The state charged appellant with two counts of criminal defamation, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.765, subd. 2.

Appellant moved to dismiss the charges, alleging that Minn. Stat. § 609.765 is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague and that prosecuting him under the statute would violate his First Amendment rights under the United States and Minnesota Constitutions. The district court denied the motion, finding that Minn. Stat. § 609.765 is not unconstitutionally overbroad or vague, and on April 29, 2014, appellant pleaded not guilty to both charges. Appellant proceeded with a stipulated-facts trial pursuant to Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd. 4, and pleaded not guilty to both charges. The district court found appellant guilty of both charges. On May 21, 2014, the district court sentenced appellant, but the terms of his sentence were stayed pending this appeal.

ISSUES

I. Is Minn. Stat. § 609.765 unconstitutionally overbroad?

II. If Minn. Stat. § 609.765 is unconstitutionally overbroad, can the statute be narrowly construed?

ANALYSIS

The constitutionality of a statute presents a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. State v. Crawley, 819 N.W.2d 94, 101 (Minn. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 1493, 185 L.Ed.2d 548 (2013). Generally, the burden is on appellant to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a statute is unconstitutional. In re Individual 35W Bridge Litig., 806 N.W.2d 820, 829 (Minn. 2011). But, when deciding the constitutionality of a law restricting First Amendment rights, the law " does not bear the usual presumption of constitutionality normally accorded to legislative enactments." State by Humphrey v. Casino Mktg. Grp., Inc., 491 N.W.2d 882, 885 (Minn. ...


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