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Utah Supreme Court Declares State’s
Criminal Libel Statute Unconstitutional
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 15, 2002
SALT LAKE CITY -- In a unanimous decision, the Utah Supreme Court issued a ruling today that states that Utah’s criminal libel statute "infringes upon a substantial amount of constitutionally protected speech" and is "therefore overbroad and unconstitutional."
The challenge to the state law stems from criminal libel charges against Ian Michael Lake, who at the time of his arrest was a 16-year-old Milford High School student. Over two years ago, deputies from the Beaver County Sheriff’s Department seized Lake’s home computer and incarcerated the high school student in the Iron County Youth Detention Center for seven days.
Lake’s crime? An Internet website he had created that included parodic statements about classmates, teachers, and the Milford High School principal. Upon his arrest, Lake was charged under Utah’s rarely used criminal libel statute.
At the request of Lake and his father, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah filed a motion to dismiss Lake’s criminal charges on the ground that Utah’s criminal libel statute is unconstitutional on its face. In January 2001, Fifth District Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Jackson ruled against the motion and referred the case to the Utah Supreme Court to review the statute’s constitutionality.
At a hearing before the court last March, the ACLU of Utah argued that the state’s criminal libel statute is not in line with the constitutional requirements laid out by the United States Supreme Court almost forty years ago.
"We are pleased that the court has thrown out this anachronistic and unconstitutional law," said Janelle Eurick, ACLU of Utah legal director. "While perhaps offensive, Ian’s statements are not criminal, and the overzealous prosecution of this young man reflects precisely the kind of heavy-handed censorship the First Amendment forbids."
State of Utah v. Ian Michael Lake