A ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court could affect how you, or if, you are charged with a crime over electronic communications like emails, chats and text messages. The court ruled that a part of the state’s cyberbullying statute unconstitutionally limited free speech.
Before the ruling, the statute made it a crime to send a communication that “threaten(s) bodily injury or property damage,” or was “intended to harass” the recipient. The court unanimously decided that the intent to harass portion is overly broad. It could apply to a wide range of online communication, such as negative restaurant reviews, social media posts about political issues, and angry (but nonthreatening) emails — communications that might make the recipient uncomfortable but are protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
Emails and Facebook posts ruled protected speech
In the underlying case, a Colorado man was charged in 2018 with domestic violence and harassment in connection with some “disparaging and vulgar” emails he sent his ex-wife after she asked him to stop. He also wrote a Facebook post claiming the woman had a sexually transmitted disease. The man later challenged the constitutionality of the cyberbullying charge. The Supreme Court’s ruling indicates that it agreed.
The right to free speech is one of the hallmarks of democracy. While expectations exist, we enjoy the right to say and write things that other people might not like without the threat of prison or other punishments. Laws that criminalize speech must be as narrow as possible to minimize the intrusion on free speech rights.