By J. DeVoy
Pundits were concerned earlier this year when the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland brought a criminal action against William Lawrence Cassidy. His alleged crime? Posting 8,000 harassing twitter messages about Alyce Zeoli, a buddhist leader in Maryland. The Court dismissed the Government’s case, as Cassidy’s anonymous speech addressed a topic accorded the highest constitutional protections: Religion.
Admittedly, some of the messages were witty. Take this poetry, for instance:
Ya like haiku? Here’s one for ya. Long limb, sharp saw, hard drop
Some were more esoteric, such as “A thousand voices call out to (Victim 1) and she cannot shut off the silent scream,” while others got to the point: “Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day.”
The Court’s Order is a solid win for the Defendant – and free speech. Within it, the Court found that 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(2) is unconstitutional as applied to the defendant. Not only does the First Amendment kick ass, it’s now a tool, albeit a slow-working one, against the federal government’s overcriminalization of daily life.
I strongly encourage reading the whole Order, but most importantly, there’s this:
However, it is questionable whether the same interest exists in the context of the use of the Internet alleged in this case because harassing telephone calls “are targeted towards a particular victim and are received outside a public forum.” United States v. Bowker, 372 F.3d 365, 379 (6th Cir. 2004). 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. See id. at 378 (contrasting why a federal telephone harassment statute serves a compelling governmental interest and a statute that made it a criminal offense for three or more persons to assemble on a sidewalk and to be “annoying” to a passerby did not serve a compelling governmental interest). (emphasis added)