Court of Appeals strikes down Minnesota’s revenge porn law
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota’s law against revenge porn is unconstitutional and infringes on First Amendment rights, the state Court of Appeals ruled Monday as it reversed the conviction of a man who circulated explicit photos of a former girlfriend.
The court ruled that the state law was such a broad violation of First Amendment free-speech rights that it couldn’t be fixed by a ruling limiting its scope.
According to court filings, Michael Anthony Casillas used the victim’s passwords to access her accounts after their relationship ended to obtain sexual photos and videos of her, then threatened to release them. She later received a screenshot from one explicit video that had been sent to 44 recipients and posted online.
A Dakota County judge rejected defendant Casillas’ First Amendment challenge to the state law and sentenced him to 23 months in prison.
The three-judge appeals panel called Casillas’ conduct “abhorrent,” and said they recognized that the non-consensual dissemination of private sexual images can cause significant harm.
“The state legitimately seeks to punish that conduct,” they wrote. “But the state cannot do so under a statute that is written too broadly and therefore violates the First Amendment.”
In throwing out his conviction, Judges Michelle Larkin, Peter Reyes and Randall Slieter said the state’s revenge porn statute has the potential to cover conduct that is constitutionally protected, such as sharing images that appear in publicly accessible media with the consent of the people depicted.
Specifically, they said, the statute lacks a requirement that prosecutors prove an intent to cause harm. They said the language allows for convictions even if the defendant didn’t know that the person depicted did not consent to the distribution of that image. And they said it allows convictions when the defendant didn’t know that the person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Rep. John Lesch, a St. Paul Democrat and chief author of the 2016 law, called on Attorney General Keith Ellison and Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom to appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court. He said similar laws have withstood constitutional challenges elsewhere, most recently in Illinois in October.
“Advocates who have worked across the country to end this reprehensible behavior and I are confident our Supreme Court would correctly decide this case and thereby vindicate the rights of thousands of victims whose reputations and lives are digitally exploited,” Lesch said in a statement.
Backstrom’s spokeswoman, Monica Jensen, said she trying for comment but that people in the know about the case were off for the Christmas holiday.
“The people of Minnesota want everyone to live with dignity and respect,” Ellison said in a statement. “This means the victims of revenge porn should be protected. Our office will review this opinion and consult with the Dakota County Attorney about options in this important case.”