Utah repeals criminal libel laws

Utah’s 131-year-old criminal libel laws arehistory.
Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed a bill into lawMarch 14 that abolishes the state’s antiquated laws that criminalized libel andslander.
The law comes after a November 2002 ruling by the UtahSupreme Court that the state’s criminal libel laws were unconstitutional. Inthat case, Ian Lake, a 16-year-old high school student at Milford High School,was arrested and spent seven days in a juvenile detention facility after postingderogatory comments about the school’s principal and other students on his Website.
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SPLCView: While it has taken a while, it is encouraging to see the strong support ofUtah lawmakers in getting rid of the dangerous, outdated threat of criminallibel, which allows government officials to throw people in jail for theirspeech. Civil libel statutes, which allow individuals to sue for money damagesfor defamatory speech, remain on the books. Next door, in Colorado, a decisionon that state’s criminal libel law is also expected to be announced any day. InApril 2005, the SPLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in that case, whichquestioned the constitutionality of Colorado’s criminal libel statute.