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Free Speech Criminalized

Woodbridge, VA |

Since when can free speech and documented factual events be criminalized into Criminal Libel and Slander in the state of Virginia?

Attorney Answers 3

  1. You do not provide sufficient factual information here to give you an answer informed to your circumstances.

    There are some general governing principles about which attorneys on here could write, but having some details, any details would help.

    This answer is not a substitute for consulting with and retaining the services of an attorney for your legal needs. By providing this answer, I am not entering into an attorney client relationship with you.

  2. Your question is too broad to answer in any reasonable way given the constraints of this forum.

    FYI--free speech has NEVER been 100% devoid of limitations.

    If you post the who, what, when, where, why, and how details you might get a more meaningful answer to your specific situation.

    If you have no specific issue yourself, recommend you go to any of the scores of free speech websites where you can find the full range of thoughts and comments on the subject…..those sites might be better designed for philosophical discussions than this one is.

    NOT LEGAL ADVICE. FOR EDUCATION AND INFORMATION ONLY. DO NOT RELY ON ANY ADVICE YOU RECEIVE FROM ME OR ANY OTHER ATTORNEY IN THIS FORUM. Legal advice comes after a complete review of the facts and relevant documents and an expressed (written) agreement of representation that forms attorney-client confidentiality. Neither of these two events can occur in this forum. Mr. Rafter is licensed to practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the US Federal Courts in Virginia. His answers to any Avvo question are rooted in general legal principles--NOT your specific state laws. There is no implied or actual attorney-client relationship arising from this education exchange. You should speak with an attorney licensed in your state, to whom you have provided all the facts before you take steps that may impact your legal rights. Mr. Rafter is under no obligation to answer subsequent emails or phone calls related to this or any other matter.

  3. In my brief, non-exhaustive research, I found 2 criminal libel statutes in Virginia:
    1): "§ 18.2-417. Slander and libel.

    Any person who shall falsely utter and speak, or falsely write and publish, of and concerning any female of chaste character, any words derogatory of such female's character for virtue and chastity, or imputing to such female acts not virtuous and chaste, or who shall falsely utter and speak, or falsely write and publish, of and concerning another person, any words which from their usual construction and common acceptation are construed as insults and tend to violence and breach of the peace or shall use grossly insulting language to any female of good character or reputation, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.

    The defendant shall be entitled to prove upon trial in mitigation of the punishment, the provocation which induced the libelous or slanderous words, or any other fact or circumstance tending to disprove malice, or lessen the criminality of the offense.

    (Code 1950, § 18.1-256; 1960, c. 358; 1973, c. 526; 1975, cc. 14, 15.)
    2) “Any person who knowingly and willfully states, delivers or transmits by any means whatever to any publisher, or employee of a publisher, of any newspaper, magazine, or other publication or to any owner, or employee of an owner, of any radio station, television station, news service or cable service, any false and untrue statement, knowing the same to be false or untrue, concerning any person or corporation, with intent that the same shall be published, broadcast or otherwise disseminated, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.” VA Code Ann. § 18.2-209.

    The first arguably violates the constitution in two ways; first it violates free speech in that it punishes speech that is mistakenly false; second it arguable violates equal protection because of the discrimination based upon sex.

    The second statute quoted above probably passes constitutional muster because it only punishes false speech that is knowingly false. If a state can award damages for libel without violating the First Amendment (which the Supreme Court has said it can under certain circumstances, the it stands to reason that it can criminalize the same type of speech without violating the First Amendmen.

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