United States citizens have the right to free speech. This essentially means that the government cannot put someone in jail simply because they have opinions. People often take this right for granted today, but it was a major step forward at the time of the nation’s founding.
With that said, there are limits to free speech. One man found out all too well that he could be jailed for what he said in a case that resulted in controversy. Learning from his experience can help you to avoid a similar fate.
The man in question wrote on Facebook that the police chief in the town where he lived was covering up criminal activity conducted by other police officers. He made this accusation on the Facebook page run by the town’s newspaper. A warrant was then put out for his arrest, stating that he had broken the law by committing criminal defamation. Defamation is one of the limits on free speech. When people make claims that they know are wrong in an attempt to be intentionally untruthful in order to harm others, they can face charges. In this case, the police chief accused the man of lying and harming the reputation of both him and his department.
The issue with intent
The man was arrested, but his case was eventually dropped. The reason for this is that defamation requires intent. Making false statements that aren’t intentionally untruthful is generally an issue of poor judgment, not defamation. It is not defamation to repeat something that is false if you honestly believe that it is true. Yet, because his words did land him in legal hot water, it is worth taking to heart the reality that if you post serious accusations against someone and you can’t prove your claims, you may find yourself facing legal challenges.
This case is a great example of how quickly and unexpectedly people can find themselves under arrest. But it also shows how ultimately unfounded arrests happen, and it demonstrates why it’s so important for anyone who is facing arrest to understand exactly what legal defense options they have available to them.