7
Jan

Minnesota's Revenge Porn Law Upheld by Supreme Court

A little more than a year ago, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a significant ruling when it found that Minnesota’s revenge porn law (more formally known as nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images) was unconstitutionally overbroad and, therefore, the statute was unenforceable. A year later (and this past December), the Minnesota Supreme Court weighed in on the issue and overruled the Court of Appeals and upheld the statute. Let’s look at the Supreme Court’s analysis to better understand why it saved the statute.

First Amendment Protected Speech

First, the Supreme Court actually agreed with the Court of Appeals by finding that the statute is overbroad by improperly infringing upon speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Putting it differently, while the statute criminalizes some speech that would not be covered by the First Amendment (such as child pornography or obscene images), the statute also covers speech that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment (such as an adult sending a nude selfie to a significant other with the express provision that it not be shared). Because of this determination, it was the State’s burden to prove that the statute, as written, was narrowly tailored to serve compelling governmental interests. The test it must survive is one of strict scrutiny.

To begin with, the State needed to show that there was an actual problem that needed to be solved – a true governmental interest in play. Here, that governmental interest is safeguarding “its citizens’ health and safety” by enacting a statute that prohibits the nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images. The Court went on to cite multiple authorities that discuss the widespread problems associated with the impermissible dissemination of private sexual images. The impact to victims include humiliation, damage to their reputation, possible job consequences, and mental health issues stemming from having their private sexual images displayed for many to see. In this context, using the State’s police powers to protect our health and safety is constitutional. 

After establishing this, the State still needed to demonstrate that the statute was narrowly tailored to solve this problem – i.e. the least restrictive means available. The Supreme Court believes this is accomplished by how the statute is written. First, the statute explicitly defines all of the key words and phrases in the proscribed conduct. Second, the actor must intentionally do the act prohibited and the Supreme Court explicitly detailed that it is a specific intent crime. Third, there are exemptions in the statute that further remove criminal enforcement from protected speech incidents. Fourth, the dissemination must be nonconsensual, which the Court determined added another layer of protection from not including protected speech conduct. And finally, the statute only applies to private speech, which is of less concern under the First Amendment analysis to the Court.

After going through this detailed analysis, the Supreme Court then held that the overbreadth argument made by the defendant failed and the analysis associated with it was essentially redundant to the above.

Admittedly, this is a legalese-heavy blog post, but it is intended to at least explain the differences in the Court of Appeals opinion and the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision to uphold the nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images statute. As a result, the revenge porn statute survives and the State prosecutors can continue to aggressively pursue those accused of violating this law. 

Contact Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorneys

Minnesota’s revenge porn law remains in effect. If you’ve been charged or think you could face a charge under the nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images statues, it’s important that you talk to a criminal defense attorney right away. At North Star Criminal Defense, we have decades of trial experience and fight for our clients and their futures. Contact us today for a free consultation.

 

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