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State Appeals Court Rules Against Minnesota Revenge Porn Law

Most U.S. states have now passed legislation to criminalize “revenge pornography,” which is defined as sexually-explicit media shared without the consent of the subject(s). While most agree that revenge porn victims deserve the chance to pursue restitution, some legal experts have worried that revenge porn laws – like the one passed in Minnesota in 2016 – err too far against our Constitutionally-guaranteed right to free speech. Last week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the latter view, striking down Minnesota’s revenge porn law on the basis that it is unconstitutional.

Why Was the 2016 Revenge Porn Law Struck Down?

After hearing powerful testimony from a revenge porn victim in March 2016, the Minnesota House public safety committee agreed to allow the revenge porn bill authored by State Representative John Lesch, which was then passed by 128-0 in the House and 62-3 in the Senate. In spite of broad agreement between lawmakers, however, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights groups had free speech concerns from the start, due to the way the law was written.

This year, the Court of Appeals reviewed the case of Michael Casillas, who was convicted under the Minnesota revenge porn law in 2017. According to court records, he had obtained sexual photos and videos of his ex-girlfriend by logging into her computer without consent. Casillas then posted one of the videos online, which earned him a 23-month prison sentence under the law.

However, the Court of Appeals questioned the logic of this verdict. While the court noted that Casillas’ actions were “abhorrent,” it also argued that the revenge porn law was much too broad in scope. Because the Minnesota law does not require proof of criminal intent to harm the individuals involved, it effectively turns negligence into a crime. As a result, this law threatens the rights of anyone who accidentally posts a sexual video online without full consent – and not just those who intend to hurt and humiliate.

This decision comes on the heels of two cases where the higher courts have ruled that similar statutes were unconstitutional for the same reason as the revenge porn statute. In June 2019, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in In re Welfare of A.J.B. that the stalking-by-mail statute was overbroad and that it had the potential to chill constitutionally protected speech. In December 2019, the Minnesota Court of Appeals similarly ruled, in State v. Peterson, that the stalking-by-telephone statute was overbroad and expressly overturned its prior ruling in State v. Hall which held the statute was constitutional on its face. The courts have been explicit that although the behaviors exhibited in these cases are not condoned, the statutes themselves limit free speech and the courts are required to faithfully apply the law.

Who Will Be Affected By This Ruling?

While many expect these rulings will be appealed before the Minnesota Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals has now created a legal precedent for others to question the law’s constitutional basis. For anyone who has been wrongly accused or convicted under these laws, this could provide adequate grounds to re-open their case or cast new light on current charges.

Contact Our Internet Sex Crimes Attorneys Today

Have you been wrongly accused under the existing Minnesota revenge pornography law? Whether you’re facing charges today or dealing with the aftermath of a revenge porn conviction, our experienced criminal defense team at Caplan & Tamburino Law Firm, P.A. can represent your interests in court. Skilled in computer-related sex offense cases, our attorneys can apply over 100 years of collective experience and knowledge to defend your rights. By appealing or re-opening your case, we can help you seek justice after an unfair conviction for revenge porn.

Call (612) 444-5020 to get started with a free, confidential consultation.

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