Does It Make Sense To Have Libel Be A Criminal Offense?
from the watch-out-what-state-you're-in dept
For the most part, libel is a civil issue between the person who made the libelous statements and the person harmed by those statements. However, there are some states that do have criminal libel laws on the books — though they’re rarely enforced. The state of Colorado, however, apparently is willing to use the law, and the law itself seems fairly broad. It was written over a century ago and says that “tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead” or to “expose the natural defects of one who is alive, and thereby to expose him to public hatred, contempt or ridicule” counts as libel. Libel should be about making materially false statements about someone. If you’re exposing the real natural defects of someone, it’s difficult to see how that should be considered libel.
Either way, that law is being tested once again, as a man is being charged with criminal libel for posting disparaging messages about his ex-girlfriend (and mother of his child) and her lawyer on Craigslist. The guy says he was only venting — but it certainly does sound like he was libelous in what he posted. The question, though, remains whether it makes sense for the lawsuit to be criminal, or a civil issue to be taken up directly between the libeled parties and the guy who posted the remarks. Making it a criminal charge seems like a waste of gov’t and taxpayer resources concerning a dispute between parties who should be able to settle things via a civil lawsuit.