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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Kansas Criminal Defamation Law Upheld

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:  "A Kansas criminal defamation law is not unconstitutionally vague or overly broad because the law only punishes speech that can be proven false and is spoken with actual malice -- meaning that the speaker knew it was false or recklessly disregarded whether it was true or not, a federal judge in Kansas City, Kan., ruled last week in two separate cases.  The nearly identical rulings by U.S. Chief District Judge John W. Lungstrum in two related cases arose from a 2003 mayoral election in Baxter Springs, Kan. The Baxter Springs published a March 2003 letter-to-the-editor by local businessman Charles How and a guest editorial by columnist Ronald Thomas criticizing City Clerk Donna Wixon. How later became a mayoral candidate. Two days after the letter and editorial ran, Wixon swore out a criminal complaint against How, Thomas and the newspaper's publisher for violating the city's criminal defamation ordinance. The ordinance, which is adapted from a state criminal defamation law, carries a maximum penalty of a $2,500 fine and one-year imprisonment.  The law defines criminal defamation as "communicating to a person orally, in writing, or by any other means, information, knowing the information to be false and with actual malice, tending to expose another living person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule; tending to deprive such person of the benefits of public confidence and social acceptance; or tending to degrade and vilify the memory of one who is dead and to scandalize or provoke surviving relatives and friends.""  [Mark Godsey]

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