Appeals Court Upholds New Hampshire's Criminal Libel Law

A U.S. Appeals Court has upheld New Hampshire’s criminal libel statute, one of the few in the country. 

Robert Frese, who had twice been charged with criminal libel, challenged the statute, saying it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 

But Judge Jeffrey R. Howard of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld a lower court order that upheld the statute.   

“Mindful of the Supreme Court's guidance that ‘the knowingly false statement and the false statement made with reckless disregard of the truth, do not enjoy constitutional protection[,]’ we conclude that Frese's allegations fall short of asserting viable constitutional claims,” Howard wrote in the ruling. 

The court determined that the statue is not vague, as Frese had charged, Rather, Howard founs that “the statute is not standardless and provides adequate guidelines for enforcement.”



Howard added that a reasonable person would not have “much difficulty in ascertaining whether speech subjects a living person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule and what a "professional or social group" is in this context.”

One prosecution against Frese took place in 2012 when he posted comments about a local life coach on a Craigslist website, calling the coach’s business a scam, that he was involved in a roaod rage incident and in distributing heroin. 

Frese pleaded guilty and was fined $1,488, of which $1,116 was suspended. 

The second episode occurred when Frese “pseudonymously posted in the online comments section of a newspaper article about a retiring Exeter police officer. The comments included statements that the retiring officer was "the dirtiest[,] most corrupt cop [Frese] ha[d] ever had the displeasure of knowing" and that the officer's daughter was a prostitute.”

Charges were later dropped against Frese, but he proceeded to challenge the constitutionality of the law.  


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