Student charged with criminal libel for Web site comments spends 7 days in jail

UTAH — A Milford teen spent seven days in a juveniledetention center and was forced to leave the state after beingcharged with criminal libel for allegedly making libelous statementson his personal Web site.

Ian Lake will face a misdemeanor charge of criminal libel forreferring to his principal as "the town drunk," naminggirls at his high school as "sluts" and making derogatoryremarks about the intelligence of several teachers.

In typical civil libel suits, if an individual is libeled thatperson can only recover monetary damages from the person who defamedthem. In the rarely used criminal libel charge, the state canprosecute a person for libel and impose jail time.

Lucy Dalglish, the executive director of the Reporters Committeefor Freedom of the Press, a journalist and First Amendment advocacygroup, said criminal libel laws are almost never used anymorebecause most states find them unnecessary and even unconstitutional.

"It is a highly unusual thing to do," Dalglish said."There is no reason to [use it] because there’s a remedy– if you libel an individual that individual can recover damages."

The last time a journalist was charged with criminal libelin Utah was in 1895, but the statute was used in 1987 to sendthen-Salt Lake County Attorney Ted Cannon to jail for 30 daysfor derogatory remarks he made about a TV journalist.

Dalglish said Utah is definitely not the norm in its use ofthe criminal libel statute.

"I find it curious that they would prosecute a high schoolstudent under a criminal statute," Dalglish said. "Utahis definitely in the minority. "

Lake created his Web site in response to other, similar sitesmade by fellow classmates that contained derogatory remarks abouthis friends and girlfriend. His father, David Lake, said his sonspent time researching libel statutes to ensure he was withinthe parameters of the law.

"I’m not condoning what he did morally, or socially even,but he did look at all legal issues involved," David Lakesaid. "He tried to construct his Web site in such a way thateven though it was trash, it was legal trash."

Ian was released from the juvenile detention center to livewith a grandparent in California. The date for his arraignmenthas not yet been scheduled.