Utah drops criminal defamation charge against boy for online comments

UTAH— Criminal defamation charges were dropped against a former Milford HighSchool student last week, ending the case brought against him for derogatorycomments he posted online about classmates and his principal.The BeaverCounty Attorney closed its case against Ian Lake, now 19, on the heals of a UtahSupreme Court decision last fall that cleared the boy of criminal libel under a126-year-old statute, which subsequently was ruledunconstitutional.Lake, now a resident of California, was arrested andcharged for criminal libel, slander and defamation after commenting on afriend’s Web site in 2000 about several students’ sexual history and accusinghis high school principal of being the “town drunk.” Lake spent seven days in ajuvenile detention facility.The slander charge was quickly dropped. And,in November the Utah Supreme Court ruled that the criminal libel statute thatLake was prosecuted under was unconstitutional because it did not apply the”actual malice” standard, which requires a person accused of libel either knewthe challenged statement was false or was reckless in verifying itsaccuracy.However, the misdemeanor criminal defamation of charactercharge was still being pursued until Fifth District Juvenile Court Judge HansChamberlain dropped the class B misdemeanor on Jan. 7. If found guilty,Lake could have faced six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.Recentlysworn-in Beaver County Attorney Von Christiansen asked the court to dismiss thecharge during the court proceeding.”Considering the Supreme Courtruling, we cannot see how justice is being pursued with these [defamation]charges,” Christiansen said in an Associated Press article.Hispredecessor Leo Kanell, now an assistant county attorney, filed the chargesagainst Lake and remains adamant that, if pursued, the defamation charges wouldhave passed constitutional muster. Kanell, however, said he agreed with thedismissal because many involved have since moved from the area.The Lakesare left with $50,000 of legal bills, although Ian was represented bycourt-appointed attorneys. David Lake, Ian’s father, told the AP that Kanell”wasted a lot of tax money in his personal pursuit of my son.”Kanellblames the media over the demise of the case.”The media [were] astumbling block by all the attention they gave this,” Kanell said in an APstory. “They never felt sorry for those who were deeply hurt [by Ian Lake’sactions] and how he affected their decisions to leave or retire from the schooldistrict.”The Student Press Law Center, along with other free-pressadvocate groups, sent a letter to Christiansen in November to urge him to dropthe remaining criminal defamation charge against Lake.

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