First Amendment And Stalking

A Maryland District Court recently found that the First Amendment prevented the government from proceeding with a criminal case against a defendant charged with violating the federal anti-stalking statute. The defendant was accused of using Twitter and other Internet sites to post critical comments about a Buddhist reincarnate llama, referred to in the case as A.Z. The defendant had been part of a sect headed up by A.Z., but was asked to leave based on his inappropriate conduct. Thereafter he made it a pretty regular practice to post derogatory comments about A.Z. on his Twitter account. According to the court, the posts were in bad taste, but the substance concerned challenges to A.Z.’s character and qualifications as a religious leader. While they apparently caused substantial distress to A.Z., they were protected speech. And the government’s effort here was content based. Had the defendant posted just as many comments, but all positive, there would have been no attempt to prosecute. And that just doesn’t work. Regardless of the effect on A.Z.