People v. Marquan M.

24 N.Y.3d 1, 19 N.E. 480 (2014)

The Marquan M. case (previously known as the Mackey-Meggs case) is part of the first wave of legal challenges to state statutes making it a crime to engage in “cyberbullying” or other acts of online cruelty. Marquan Mackey-Meggs, 17, was charged under an Albany County, N.Y., law making it a crime to speak online “with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person.” The charges arose from a Facebook page on which Mackey-Meggs posted graphic and insulting sexual gossip about his classmates, identifying them by name. He pled guilty but brought a constitutional challenge to the statute.

The SPLC joined three other youth-welfare organizations in arguing that the statute was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The amicus brief—co-signed by Advocates for Children of New York, the National School Climate Center and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Peace—argued that criminal prosecution is a dangerous overreaction to bullying and that less speech-restrictive educational responses are more effective. In a 5-2 ruling issued in July 2014, the New York Court of Appeals struck down the Albany County statute as unconstitutional. The statute overreached into constitutionally protected speech by imposing criminal penalties merely for being “annoying” or “humiliating,” the court ruled.