Vagueness Challenge to N.H.’s Criminal Libel Law Rejected
In Frese v. MacDonald, the ACLU of New Hampshire is challenging New Hampshire’s criminal libel statute, which provides,
A person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor [punishable by a fine of up to about $1500] if he purposely communicates to any person, orally or in writing, any information which he knows to be false and knows will tend to expose any other living person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.
Because of the limited punishments that can be imposed, “[c]riminal defamation defendants are not entitled to a trial by jury” and “state law does not afford indigent criminal defamation defendants the right to court-appointed counsel.” “Municipal police departments in New Hampshire have been empowered since colonial times to initiate prosecutions for misdemeanors like criminal defamation without input or approval from a state-employed and legally trained prosecutor.” “[O]ver the past ten years, approximately 25 defendants [have apparently been] charged under the criminal defamation statute.”
In Garrison v. Louisiana (1964) and Herbert v. Lando (1979), the Supreme Court stated that suitably narrow criminal libel laws (basically, ones tha
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