Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Federal Judge Upholds 1st Amendment: Defendant Was Talkin', Not Stalkin'

English: The Bill of Rights, the first ten ame...Image via WikipediaIn his 27-page Memorandum of Opinion in U.S. v. William Lawrence Cassidy (Case No. RWT-11-091), U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland Judge Roger W. Titus last week granted the defendant's motion to dismiss, ruling the First Amendment overrides harassment allegations based on offensive Tweets and blog posts.

As reported by the Legal Times blog (LegalTimes.typepad.com), Cassidy was indicted in February 2011, pursuant to a federal  interstate stalking statute [18 U.S.C. sec. 2261A(2)(A)], which originally was passed as a component of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief in support of the defendant.

The case arose from the defendant's introduction in 2007 to a Buddhist sect leader who was an enthroned tulku whose power was derived by lineage within her community. Cassidy had claimed the same status, which the other tulku questioned, prompting a Twitter and blog campaign by the defendant critical of the tulku and her place of worship, according to Legal Times.

Judge Titus ceded that the online assault by Cassidy may have caused the tulku emotional distress, but noted the government's indictment was not limited to unprotected speech, such as defamation, true threats or obscenity. Said Judge Titus: "The Government's Indictment here is directed squarely at protected speech: anonymous, uncomfortable Internet speech addressing religious matters."

Though prosecutors argued the First Amendment does not confer a right to harass or intimidate, Judge Titus said: "Twitter and blogs are today's equivalent of a bulletin board that one is free to disregard, in contrast, for example, to e-mails or phone calls directed to a victim."


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