The Loveland Connection is reporting that a Colorado man has been charged with two counts of criminal libel after allegedly posting comments about a former girlfriend and her lawyer on Craigslist.com's "Rants and Raves" section:
The case in Loveland began when a woman approached the Loveland Police Department in December 2007 about multiple postings made about her between November and December 2007. At least one post suggests that she traded sexual acts for legal services from her attorney, according to court records. There's also mention about a child services visit made because of an injury found on her child.
Police obtained search warrants for records from Craigslist.com and other Web sites and identified J.P. Weichel as the suspect, the former boyfriend of the woman, who shares a child with her. In August, detectives confronted Weichel at his workplace, where police said he admitted to the postings because he was "just venting," according to the court file.
We haven't been able to get our hands on the charging documents, but it appears that Weichel has been charged under Colorado's criminal libel law, Colo. Rev. Stat. 18-13-105, which defines criminal libel in shockingly broad terms:
(1) A person who shall knowingly publish or disseminate, either by written instrument, sign, pictures, or the like, any statement or object tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead, or to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation or expose the natural defects of one who is alive, and thereby to expose him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, commits criminal libel.
(2) It shall be an affirmative defense that the publication was true, except libels tending to blacken the memory of the dead and libels tending to expose the natural defects of the living.
Unfortunately, Colorado isn't the only state with a criminal libel provision on its books. Nor is this the first criminal libel case we've seen in Colorado arising from online speech. See State of Colorado v. Mink, where a college student was investigated for posting a satirical online journal that was critical of professors at the University of Northern Colorado (note that prosecutors eventually decided not to file charges).
At least 16 U.S. states have such laws which trace their roots back to at least the 15th century. According to the Media Law Resource Center (via ABCnews.com), they found 77 reported actual or threatened criminal libel prosecutions between 1965 and 2002. In 2008, at least 13 such cases have been brought in Wisconsin, Colorado, Minnesota, Florida, Louisiana, Montana and Oklahoma, the MLRC reports.
The charges against Weichel constitute a class 6 felony that carry a punishment of up to 18 months in prison. A hearing is scheduled for later in December 2008.
You can monitor the progress of this case in our database entry, State of Colorado v. Weichel.