Monday, March 25, 2013

State v. Powell case brief

State v. Powell case brief
839 P.2d 139 (N.M. App. 1992)

The state appealed an order of the District Court of Grant County (New Mexico), which dismissed the complaint charging defendant with criminal libel in violation of N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-11-1 (1984).

OVERVIEW: Defendant, a university teacher, was convicted of criminal libel in magistrate court based on accusations he had made against the university's acting vice-president for academic affairs. On appeal, the trial court dismissed the complaint, holding that § 30-11-1 was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to libel of public officials or public figures.

On further appeal, the court affirmed on other grounds, holding that the criminal libel statute was unconstitutional insofar as it applied to a public statement involving a matter of public concern.

-The court held that the Constitution prohibited a conviction for criminal libel for public defamation made without actual malice on a matter of public concern.
-The court rejected the state's argument that any constitutional defect in the statute could be cured by requiring the trial court to instruct the jury on "actual malice."
-Because the charge against defendant was predicated on public statements relating to the performance of the administration of a public institution of higher learning and thus was a matter of public concern, defendant could not constitutionally be prosecuted under § 30-11-1.

-The written, printed or published statement to come within the definition of libel must falsely convey the idea either:
(1) that the person to whom it refers has been guilty of some penal offenses;
(2) that he has been guilty of some act or omission which, though not a penal offense, is disgraceful to him as a member of society, and the natural consequence of which is to bring him into contempt among honorable persons;
(3) that he has some moral vice or physical defect or disease which renders him unfit for intercourse with respectable society, and as such should cause him to be generally avoided;
(4) that he is notoriously of bad or infamous character; or
(5) that any person in office or a candidate therefor is dishonest and therefore unworthy of such office, or that while in office he has been guilty of some malfeasance rendering him unworthy of the place.
-It shall be sufficient to constitute the crime of libel if the natural consequence of the publication of the same is to injure the person defamed although no actual injury to his reputation need be proven.
-No statement made in the course of a legislative or judicial proceeding, whether true or false, although made with intent to injure and for malicious purposes, comes within the definition of libel.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the dismissal of the complaint against defendant for criminal libel.

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