Archive for the ‘imprisonment’ Category

Blogger Hal Turner Pursues §1983 Case After Acquittal on Threats Charges

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Blogger Hal Turner of North Bergen, N.J. is currently pursuing a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the Connecticut State Capitol Police. The cause of action is under 42 U.S.C. §1983 – the general civil-rights statute that allows lawsuits against state officials acting in violation of the federal Constitution.

Last year, Turner was arrested for comments he made on his blog that were interpreted by as a threat against Connecticut state legislators. He wrote, “TRN advocates Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force. … It is our intent to foment direct action against these individuals personally. These beastly government officials should be made an example of as a warning to others in government: Obey the Constitution or die.” (Blog Law Blog, Oct. 21, 2011: State v. Turner: Incitement to Violence and Jurisdictional Questions)

Turner ended up winning an acquittal. Now he is seeking $50 million in his civil suit.

Most recently, Turner is proclaiming a victory of sorts in that suit because the State of Connecticut has retained outside counsel. His statement says, “On Friday, January 25, 2013, a Partner from the mega law firm McCarter & English, LLP filed his appearance in the case and asked the US District Court in New Jersey for an extension of time to answer Turner’s lawsuit. This represents a significant change from the state’s prior decision to utilize its own Attorney General’s Office, which assigned Assistant Attorney General Philip Miller to the case.”

I’m not sure what it means that the state has obtained outside counsel. McCarter & English is a large regional law firm, although I don’t think it is accurate to call them a “mega firm.”

Turner is something of a self-employed First-Amendment tester. He apparently started out as a frequent caller to conservative talk radio shows, then branched out into blogging and webcasting. He currently operates the Turner Radio Network, which bears no relation to media tycoon Ted Turner. (And I can’t figure out why neither Ted Turner, nor his merger-partner Time Warner, hasn’t shut down Hal Turner’s use of “Turner Radio Network” name on trademark grounds.)

No matter how much you like the First Amendment, Hal Turner is one of those people who is hard to root for. His varied causes have included Holocaust denial, white-supremecist causes, and threatening judges.

While involved with white-supremecist groups, Turner was a paid informant on those groups to the FBI. But any effort on his part to work against those groups can contextualize only so much of his ranting.

In June 2009, angered about a case upholding municipal handgun ordinances, Turner blogged that federal judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals “deserve to be killed” and, referencing a Thomas Jefferson quote, wrote that “their blood will replenish the tree of liberty.”

Those comments got him a conviction in 2010 with a 33-month federal sentence. He was released from prison in 2012 to serve out the remainder of his sentence from a halfway house in New Jersey.

Conviction for Insulting Islam in Austria

Monday, January 30th, 2012

daylight exterior

Pallas Athena fountain in front of the Parliament Building in Vienna, Austria (Photo: CIA)

An Austrian appeals court has upheld the conviction of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff for insulting Islam.

This is a case that came down just before the New Year. I think it’s worth discussing here because blogs, of course, cross borders. American bloggers are likely to think that American concepts of free expression are likely to be shared with other industrialized Western countries. But that’s not true at all.

Eugene Volokh on the Volokh Conspiracy explains the legal angle with a post that provides a quick look at recent blasphemy prosecutions around Europe, as well as a discussion of America’s history of criminalizing blasphemy back in the early 1800s.

As far as the prosecution of Sabaditsch-Wolff, the defendant herself explains what happened in an interview:

What was the reason for this conviction, you may ask. Well, during the course of my seminars, I mentioned the choking EU directive “Framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia,” and in order to illustrate my point I told the audience about a conversation I had with my sister and how she believed that one should find a different word for Mohammed’s actions with Aisha. I said, “How does one name what he did if not call it pedophilia?” And this sentence got me convicted, for I am allowed by law to say that Mohammed had sex with a young girl, but I may not qualify this behavior as this is deemed “excessive” and thus denigrating.

It would be unthinkable for anyone in the United States to get in legal trouble for something like this. But, as Commenter Parker said in the thread after Volokh’s post, “This is Europe we are speaking of. Europe has a different idea of human rights and especially a different idea of the freedom of speech.”

True that. With the similarity in the media, press, and arts between the U.S. and Europe, you could easily assume that what’s sacrosanct as a matter of American expressive freedom would be protected in Europe. Just about anyone could guess that there’s no right to bear arms across Europe. But with free speech, you would be forgiven for thinking they are basically the same. And it’s probably true that 99% of what is protected in America is protected in EU countries. But once you get toward the fringes, you’ll realize that freedom of expression in Europe is actually very different. Free speech is at the apex of American freedoms and values. In the European scheme of values, there is the idea that free speech must often be subservient in the hierarchy of human rights. The Sabaditsch-Wolff case illustrates, I think, the European impulse that the right to be free from religious insult is considered as or more important than the right to be free to say whatever you want.

Liberty L.A. Style: Free Speech School or Jail

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

View of the LA City Hall skyscraper under a blue skyL.A. City Hall (Photo: EEJ)

Jeffrey P. Hermes at the Citizen Media Law Project Blog has spotted a small volcano of irony erupting from Los Angeles: The L.A. City Attorney’s Office has announced that it won’t press charges against Occupy L.A. protesters arrested on low-level misdemeanor offenses if they complete a free-speech course.

But freedom isn’t free: The lessons for the pre-trial diversion program will be supplied by a private-contractor, American Justice Associates, which will charge $355 per person for the course. Checks can be made out to “The One Percent, LLC.”

It’s a move Hermes calls “a dramatic, last-minute effort to win the prize for ‘Most Obnoxious Law Enforcement Tactic of the Year.’” Hmmm. Well put. As he explains:

Let’s reflect for a moment on this one, shall we? … This is, after all, the city that was on the wrong end of a $1.7 million verdict after police assaulted a journalist covering a rally in 2007, and attempted to control coverage of Occupy L.A. by excluding all media except a hand-picked pool of reporters. And let us not forget Special Order No. 11, which among other things directs the LAPD to file a “Suspicious Activity Report” about any photographer who takes pictures “with no apparent esthetic value.”

But there’s another side to this. As a Los Angeles Times article explains, the city wants to save on the expense of prosecuting the hundreds of people it’s rounded up. Fair enough. We all know how California is hurting for money. (Actually, in recent years the office has suffered a 25% budget reduction.)

Look, I think I’ve got an easy fix: Just require Occupy protesters to complete community service by teaching the class themselves, with LAPD higher-ups enrolled as students.

Judge Posner Worried By Mic-Wielding Bloggers

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Hon. Richard A. Posner (Photo: U. Chicago)

Illinois has an eavesdropping and wiretapping statute that prohibits making an audio recording of any conversation without the consent of all persons involved. This applies not only over the phone or in a private place, but even in a public place. And even when the conversation is with public officials concerning a matter of public concern. Violations can be prosecuted as felonies, and civil suits are authorized as well.

If you don’t think that sounds constitutional, I’m inclined to agree. And so is the ACLU, who is suing on behalf of several people arrested for secretly recording on-duty police officers. The civil liberties group is challenging the law in ACLU v. Alvarez.

On appeal to the federal Seventh Circuit, the ACLU faced questioning by a panel that included America’s most famous federal circuit judge, the Hon. Richard A. Posner. His questioning was alarming. Just 14 words into his argument, ACLU lawyer Richard O’Brien was interrupted with this:

“Yeah, I know … But I’m not interested, really, in what you want to do with these recordings of peoples’ encounters with the police.”

Huh? Really? Ferreting out public corruption, abuse of power, obstruction of justice by those charged to guard it – all that sounds interesting to me.

Posner proceeded to worry about how striking down the law could aid snooping bloggers:

“Once all this stuff can be recorded, there’s going to be a lot more of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers.”

“Is that a bad thing, your honor?”

“Yes, it is a bad thing. There is such a thing as privacy.”

Such a thing as privacy for on-duty police officers? Even when they are in public or interacting with civilians? Gosh, I can’t get behind that.

Justin Silverman at CMLP has an extremely thoughtful post on the matter. He writes, “Posner’s apparent belief that there should be an expectation of privacy for those in public areas discussing matters of public concern is alarming given that it is squarely at odds with the First Amendment. Worse, Posner’s comments smack of condescension for journalists.”

Jonathan Turley also is taken aback. He writes on his blog, “What astonishes me is that government officials are pushing this effort to block this basic right of citizens and perhaps the single most important form of evidence against police abuse. … As someone who admires Posner’s contributions to the law, it is disappointing to read such biased and dismissive comments in a free speech case. For police wondering ‘who will rid us of these meddling citizens?,’ they appear to have one jurist in Illinois not just ready but eager to step forward.”

Unfortunately, the facts of the case show that Turley’s comment is not the hyperbole you wish it were. The story told by one of the plaintiffs in the suit, Tiawanda Moore, is terrifying: She was groped in her home by a Chicago police officer who had responded to a domestic disturbance call. Moore was brave enough to take the issue to internal affairs. But they tried to deflect her complaint and sought to dissuade her from pursuing the matter. In the interests of protecting herself, she began to secretly record her conversations with investigators on her Blackberry.

When the recordings came to light, Moore was arrested and charged with violation of Illinois’s eavesdropping statute. Sadly, prosecutors took the case to trial. But in a strong affirmation of the role of civilian jurors, the jury acquitted her of the charge.

Just a few weeks ago, the First Circuit ruled that there is a constitutional right to record police actions in public places. Hopefully the Seventh Circuit will follow the lead and clear the way for snooping bloggers and sexually harassed citizens alike to be free to record the police in the City of Big Shoulders.

More:

Imprisoned Bloggers Around the World

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

According to Reporters Without Borders there are currently 121 netizens imprisoned, along with 157 journalists and 9 media assistants behind bars.

They include:

  • Blogger Henghameh Shahidi of Iran, in prison since February 25, 2009
  • Blogger Sakhi Righi of Iran, in prison since June 18, 2009
  • Blogger Wu Baoquan of China, in prison since a date unknown

The leading countries in jailing the persons RWB classifies as netizens are China (70), Iran (17), and Vietnam (17).

Busy-Body Legislating: California’s New Law on Tweeting Jurors

Thursday, August 25th, 2011
Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes in a suit smiling with arms crossed

Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes, author of California’s latest silly law (Photo: ASMDC)

A new California law signed by Governor Jerry Brown threatens jurors with jail time if they tweet, blog, or otherwise use the internet to communicate about their trial. The bill is the handiwork of Democratic San Fernando Valley Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes.

I’ve looked at the text of the law. At best, it’s silly. At worst, it’s hurtful.

The first thing the law does put an additional requirement on judges when they make their admonishments to the jury. Under Code of Civil Procedure §611, judges already have to explain that jurors are prohibited from talking about, researching, or disseminating information about the trial. The new law requires that judges “clearly explain,” that this admonishment “applies to all forms of electronic and wireless communication.”

Ooooh. Notice how cleverly the law was drafted with the use of the word “clearly”. If judges were merely required to “explain” this to jurors, there would be a huge loophole allowing judges to undermine the spirit of the law by issuing their explanation in an unclear manner.

To drop the sarcasm for a second, this strikes me as pure busy-body lawmaking. There’s no need to micromanage courtroom procedure through statute. Judges are completely capable of fine-tuning admonishments on their own. If this part of the law does anything, it seems to me it might create an argument for throwing out otherwise perfectly good jury verdicts on appeal. If a judge with decades of experience makes the mistake of issuing a standard admonishment, not complying with the technicality of the new law, there now appears to be a basis in statute for tossing the verdict. And even if the judge does the explanation, disappointed litigants can still quibble with the judge’s words, arguing that the issue wasn’t explained “clearly.”

Then there’s the aspect of the new law that’s been given the press coverage: Jail time for tweeting jurors.

Here’s what the new law adds to the list of misdemeanor offenses listed in Code of Civil Procedure §1209:

Willful disobedience by a juror of a court admonishment related to the prohibition on any form of communication or research about the case, including all forms of electronic or wireless communication or research.

Note that before Fuente’s new law, §1209 already made the following a misdemeanor:

When summoned as a juror in a court, neglecting to attend or serve as such, or improperly conversing with a party to an action, to be tried at such court, or with any other person, in relation to the merits of such action, or receiving a communication from a party or other person in respect to it, without immediately disclosing the same to the court[.]

and this:

[a]ny … unlawful interference with the process or proceedings.

The current law seems to cover everything of substance. The only thing the new provision does that I can see is make it a jailable offense to use the internet in such a way that is neither improper nor interfering. I guess I don’t understand why we would want to jail jurors under such circumstances.

Jurors are already the lowliest souls on the schedule of recipients of rights and liberties. Prisoners have more legal safeguards for their rights than jurors. Without committing or even being suspected of a crime, jurors are swept off the streets and detained against their will, their freedoms of expression and association instantly curtailed. Moreover, jurors can made to serve for months on end and can be sequestered from the rest of the world – all without due process. Is it really necessary to slap them around with threats of jail?

I poked around on Felipe Fuentes’s website. I don’t see any press release he’s issued about this regrettably successful project. Maybe he’s not too proud of it.

Last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill similar to this one because he considered current warnings to jurors to be adequate. He had some common sense. I’m sorry to see it gone missing in Sacramento now.

UN Report: Criminalization of Blogging

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Blue flag of the United NationsBelow is another excerpt that I think’s worth reading from the recent United Nations Human Rights Council report [pdf] on freedom of opinion and expression.

This excerpt of the report decries the criminalization of blogging:

… any restriction to the right to freedom of expression must meet the strict criteria under international human rights law. A restriction on the right of individuals to express themselves through the Internet can take various forms, from technical measures to prevent access to certain content, such as blocking and filtering, to inadequate guarantees of the right to privacy and protection of personal data, which inhibit the dissemination of opinions and information. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that the arbitrary use of criminal law to sanction legitimate expression constitutes one of the gravest forms of restriction to the right, as it not only creates a “chilling effect”, but also leads to other human rights violations, such as arbitrary detention and torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

One clear example of criminalizing legitimate expression is the imprisonment of bloggers around the world. According to Reporters without Borders, in 2010, 109 bloggers were in prison on charges related to the content of their online expression. Seventy-two individuals were imprisoned in China alone, followed by Viet Nam and Iran, with 17 and 13 persons respectively.

Imprisoning individuals for seeking, receiving and imparting information and ideas can rarely be justified as a proportionate measure to achieve one of the legitimate aims under article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Special Rapporteur would like to reiterate that defamation should be decriminalized, and that protection of national security or countering terrorism cannot be used to justify restricting the right to expression unless the Government can demonstrate that: (a) the expression is intended to incite imminent violence; (b) it is likely to incite such violence; and (c) there is a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence.

Blogger Continues Suit Against Fluvanna County over Seal Ordinance

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

The Seal of Fluvanna County, Virginia, pixelized

The Seal of Fluvanna County, Virginia

Tasha Kates at The Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Virginia reports about legal manuverings in Fluvanna County stemming from lawsuit brought by blogger Bryan Rothamel of Fluco Blog.

Rothamel is suing to assert his First Amendment right to use the county’s seal to illustrate news stories about county government. A county ordinance passed in September 2010 made unauthorized use of the seal a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable with a fine of up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

After being sued, the county’s board of supervisors voted to change the ordinance to downgrade the punishment to a maximum $100 fine and/or as long as 30 days in jail. That will bring Fluvanna County into line with the Commonwealth of Virginia’s seal statute.

The suit, however, will go forward. Suing on Rothamel’s behalf is The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization that says the state law suffers from the “same vagueness problem” as the original ordinance.

Here’s Byran Rothamel’s March 2010 post about the ordinance accompanied by a big blank spot where the seal would be restored, I take it, if Rothamel’s suit is successful.

Letter to Santa re Law o/b/o Bloggers

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Dear Santa:

On behalf of bloggers across the USA and around the world, BlogLawBlog respectfully requests the following:

With warm holiday wishes,

Eric E. Johnson

New York Times on Blog Freedom in Syria

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

thumbnail image from the New York Times storyAn article in today’s New York Times describes a “slim margin” of freedom for Syria’s bloggers and “an ever present fog of fear and intimidation” that surrounds practitioners in Syria’s online press. Several bloggers have been jailed, and a draft law would mandate registration of those who blog and would require their writing to be submitted for review.

The article, by Robert F. Worth, is “Web Tastes Freedom Inside Syria, and It’s Bitter.”

Jordan Modifies Law Targeting Online Reporting

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Reporters Without Borders reports that the government of Jordan has yielded to protests and amended its newly introduced Information Systems Crimes Law to remove some of its most controversial features. But RWB “continues to call for its repeal as it still grants the authorities arbitrary restrictive powers, above all because of its vague wording.”

Background here.

Jailed Iranian Blogger Kouhyar Goudarzi Honored

Monday, September 6th, 2010
The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. has selected jailed Iranian blogger Kouhyar Goudarzi as the recipient of the 2010 John Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award. (National Press ClubRadio Free Europe / Radio Liberty)

China Leads World in Jailing of Bloggers

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Flag of the People's Republic of ChinaAccording to continuously updated figures from Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), China leads the world in the jailing of bloggers, with 11 behind bars.

Iran is runner-up with five in jail. Vietnam and Azerbaijan are tied for third place with two each.

RWB’s press freedom barometer tracks the numbers here.

More Waiting in Jail for Kuwaiti Blogger

Monday, June 7th, 2010

AFP reports that Mohammed Abdulqader Al-Jassem, a 54-year-old Kuwaiti lawyer, journalist, and blogger, has been ordered by a criminal court in Kuwait to remain behind bars until at least a June 21 hearing date.

The case is a double whammy for press freedom. Following a May 24 hearing in the case, the court issued an order that banned all publication of news relating to Al-Jassem’s case.

The charges in the case stem from blog posts written by Al-Jassem over the last five years that were considered highly offensive to the emirate of Kuwait. According to AFP, Al-Jassem faces charges of “undermining the emir’s status, attacking the regime and spreading false information damaging to Kuwait’s national interests.”

A statement issued by Amnesty International last week is here.

Some additional background, in a Kuwait Times article from December 2009 about a public protest demanding Al-Jassem’s release, is here.

Al-Jassem’s name in the English-language has also been spelled “Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qader al-Jasem” and “Mohamed Al-Jassim,” perhaps among other spellings. My post here follows the usage of the Kuwait Times.

Conviction Upheld for Blogger/Stalker

Monday, May 31st, 2010

A just released opinion from the Second District of the California Court of Appeals makes for some terrifying reading.

In People v. Costales, the intermediate California appeals court upheld a two-year sentence for Michigan resident George Christian Costales, who used his blog to document his obsession with Stacy B., a musician maintaining a MySpace page. Costales eventually used his blog to document his cross-country road trip to attempt to visit Stacy B. in person in California.

On appeal, Costales contended there was insufficient evidence to show that he had made a “credible threat,” required for a stalking conviction under California Penal Code § 646.9. The statute defines “credible threat” as “a verbal or written threat … or a threat implied by a pattern of conduct or a combination of verbal, written, or electronically communicated statements and conduct, made with the intent to place the person that is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family, and made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat … ”

The court held that Costales’s blogging provided all the evidence that was necessary for the conviction.

The opinion is here. Some excerpts:

George Christian Costales appeals a judgment following his conviction of stalking. (Pen.Code, § 646.9, subd. (a).) We conclude, among other things, that: 1) substantial evidence supports the judgment, and 2) Costales has not shown that his two-year prison sentence was retaliation for his decision to proceed to trial instead of making a plea to the charges. We affirm. …

Stacy B. was a musician who used an Internet program called MySpace to “market” her music. She had “an open profile” to allow the public to go to her site. She began receiving disturbing e-mails from Costales, a stranger from Michigan.

Let me just pause for a moment to note that it is interesting that the Court of Appeals put the word “market” in quotes – as if MySpace is somehow a silly way to go about marketing music. Also, judging by her  MySpace page, it looks like she still is a musician. It says she’s currently in the studio. At any rate, the court continued:

Stacy B. was so disturbed by the content of his messages that she used a security feature on her MySpace page to block him from leaving his profile and his comments. Costales discovered that she had blocked his access to her site. He posted a message stating, among other things, “[S]he has blocked me and has never uttered even one word to me. I do believe she loves me…. [¶] … Oh, hell, am I a f***ing stalker ? I visit her page every day. In my mind she’s the perfect woman for me.” He created new profiles to avoid the blocking mechanism and continued to send messages.

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Obama Signs Law to Require State Department to Report on Blog Repression

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010
Obama signing Daniel Pearl Act

President Obama talks with Adam Daniel Pearl, son of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, at the signing ceremony for the Daniel Pearl Act. (Official White House Photo)

On Monday, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R.3714, the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act. [pdf] [Thomas info]

The law requires the State Department to include information on press freedoms in human right assessments of foreign countries.

The act does not mention blogs or the internet specifically, but Obama’s remarks at the signing did: “All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face; who are the frontlines against tyranny and oppression.”

The law’s requirements include, “a description of the status of freedom of the press, including initiatives in favor of freedom of the press and efforts to improve or preserve, as appropriate, the independence of the media, together with an assessment of progress made as a result of those efforts” and “an identification of countries in which there were violations of freedom of the press, including direct physical attacks, imprisonment, indirect sources of pressure, and censorship by governments, military, intelligence, or police forces, criminal groups, or armed extremist or rebel groups.”

RWB on Wael Abbas Conviction

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Reporters Without Borders on the conviction of blogger Wael Abbas, sentenced to six months jail time for selling communications services without a licence in a trial conducted in Abbas’s absence and without notifying him.

Conviction of Cuban Blogger Diana Virgen Garcia

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

World Women International on the conviction of Cuban blogger Diana Virgen Garcia.

Garcia’s blog reported on violence and repression against independent journalists, according to the World Women International post, and she was sentenced to 20 months in prison after a trial on unknown charges

Reporters Without Borders Names 40 Predators of Press Freedom

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Today, World Press Freedom Day, the press-freedom group Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) has released its list of 40 “predators” of press freedom. (press release can be found here; a list of the “predators” can be found at the bottom of RSF’s home page).

Nong Duc Manh, Vietnam’s Communist Party general secretary, received attention on the list for  ”waging an offensive” against bloggers, writers, and the liberal press.