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MySpace is Free Speech, Case Overturned 242

Posted by Zonk
from the myspeech dept.
eldavojohn writes "The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a judge violated the constitution after placing a juvenile on probation for an expletive laden MySpace entry on the principal. The court decided that the juvenile's free speech rights had been unconstitutionally revoked, and the original judge had suppressed politically motivated free speech since the comments were directly attacking school policy. I think we are starting to see a fine line develop online as it did with print — bullying & slander are punishable while we have to allow criticism of ideas no matter how harsh it is."
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MySpace is Free Speech, Case Overturned

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  • by gbulmash (688770) <.semi_famous. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:10PM (#18681059) Homepage Journal
    I think this deals more with the broader issue of whether schools can regulate or impose disciplinary actions related to a studen's off-campus activities. While it's long been shown that when students are on campus, they surrender a number of their constitutional rights (free speech, search and seizure, right to bear arms, etc.), the courts seem to be recognizing that just being a student doesn't make you a second class-citizen 24/7. And that has broader implications than just online activities.

    - Greg
    • This is no different from nay other situations. You need to give up all these rights to get on a plane. Try walk into a bank carrying a shotgun. Shout "This is a stick up" and then claim freedom of speach.

      The difference with myspace etc is that these are clearly soap-boxing sites where people are encouraged and expected to express opinions.

      • by Deagol (323173)
        Yeah, but people are not forced by the State into compulsory plane trips until they turn 18. Slight difference.

        On a similar note, I've always wondered if it could be possible to avoid a court appearance due to the fact that you must check all firearms (er, weapons -- they took my Swiss Army Knife once) with the courthouse guards. Can the State compel you to surrender your arms if you have not been convicted of anything yet? A nice legal chicken/egg problem.

        • by why-is-it (318134)

          On a similar note, I've always wondered if it could be possible to avoid a court appearance due to the fact that you must check all firearms (er, weapons -- they took my Swiss Army Knife once) with the courthouse guards.

          Does the phrase contempt of court [wikipedia.org] mean anything to you?

          • by jrockway (229604)
            Does the phrase overthrow the government [wikipedia.org] mean anything to you?

            The court belongs to the people, not the government.
            • by FLEB (312391)
              Unfortunately, they still have more guns.
              • by Arthur B. (806360)
                It doesn't solely rely on gun, the government couldn't possibly fight against even 20% of the population. There's a tipping point for revolutions which is fairly low. It relies on democracy, and the ability for the government to create the proper incentives so that people stay in line and keep voting.

                1. Create economic distress
                2. Argue for a welfare state
                3. Tax
                4. ???
                5. Profit

                very few guns needed
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ajs (35943)

      While it's long been shown that when students are on campus, they surrender a number of their constitutional rights (free speech, search and seizure, right to bear arms, etc.)
      ... uh, no. You don't surrender your right to bear arms in school. You surrender your right to bear arms by being a minor. Most states don't allow minors to get FIDs, and the Supreme Court has never even commented, as far as I know.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by wgaryhas (872268)
        What about teachers, principals, and other staff?
      • by Altus (1034)
        while this is true it is also true that firearms are not allowed on school property in any district that I know of and there are highschool students who have a licence to carry, they just have to be over 18 (maybe 17 in some states) and still in highschool. I knew people who fell into this category.
      • by DAtkins (768457) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:49PM (#18681651) Homepage
        I've always wondered how that used to work. My step-father's high school had an indoor firing range; and people brought their guns to school on the bus. I think they had to turn them into the range master prior to going to homeroom. They obviously don't do that now, but I am curious when and how the policy change occurred.

        Of course this was in rural Georgia (Athens-Clarke County) sometime in the 50's.

        Anyhoo, it's not that you don't have a right to bear arms as a minor, just that those rights are severely restricted. And ownership is usually flat out (not that it kept any of my friends from "owning" a .22 or maybe a .410).
      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:50PM (#18681677) Homepage Journal

        Most states don't allow minors to get FIDs

        FID? Flight ID? Free Induction Decay? Financial Institutions Duty? Functional Interface Drawing? Oh wait, there it is, Firearms Identification.

        Guess what? FID is generally only required when purchasing a gun. SOME states require that you have a license to own a firearm, but not most.

        In California [ca.gov], "A person must be at least 18 years of age to purchase a rifle or shotgun. To buy a handgun, a person must be at least 21 years of age, and either 1) possess an HSC plus successfully complete a safety demonstration with the handgun being purchased or 2) qualify for an HSC exemption."

        It's worth mentioning that no minor without their majority can actually be said to own property anyway. Their parents/guardians can take it away at any time, so it's not really theirs. So the law focuses on providing access to minors. California law doesn't make it illegal to provide access to a firearm to a minor, but you can be guilty of a felony if a minor uses your gun to commit a crime.

        Everyone surrenders their right to bear arms on a school campus except for active law enforcement, or military during the execution of orders. Even if you have a concealed carry permit it is not lawful to bring a gun to a school. This is interesting because at one time (IIRC, up until the early 1900s) California law explicitly protected your right to carry a gun on public property. That means schools, courthouses, et cetera.

        • by cayenne8 (626475)
          Oops..I posted asking about FID before I saw your post.

          Interesting...I've never lived anywhere where I'd heard of a Firearms ID.

          Granted, most of my firearms purchases have been from private individuals (some at gun shows), some relatives, etc....so, there is not waiting time, no requirement for ID, etc....and best of all...NO RECORD.

          The only time in my life I've ever registered any kind of firearm was when I got my concealed carry years back, and in AR, they did require you to list the weapons on that li

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Granted, most of my firearms purchases have been from private individuals (some at gun shows), some relatives, etc....so, there is not waiting time, no requirement for ID, etc....and best of all...NO RECORD.

            In California you must have a handgun safety cert or an exemption thereof to purchase a handgun, regardless of where it is purchased, and all handgun transfers must be reported to the state.

            The only time in my life I've ever registered any kind of firearm was when I got my concealed carry years back, a

      • by cayenne8 (626475)
        "Most states don't allow minors to get FIDs, and the Supreme Court has never even commented, as far as I know."

        I must have missed this one acronym school....what is FID?

    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:27PM (#18681341)

      I think this deals more with the broader issue of whether schools can regulate or impose disciplinary actions related to a studen's off-campus activities.
      I think you are wrong, because this case doesn't concern school disciplinary action at all. The only school involvement is that the questionable postings were seen and reported by a principal: the delinquency petition was not filed by the school, but by the state, and the authority for it was the state's general juvenile justice authority, not its authority over the school system. So its pretty hard to read this as dealing with the issue you want it to be about.
    • The "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case is currently before the Supreme Court this term and covers much of this ground.

      If nothing else, it's enormously entertaining just to hear the Supremes uttering the phrase "Bong Hits 4 Jesus".

      http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4155/i s_20060830/ai_n16693097 [findarticles.com]

      Famous Scumbag Lawyer Ken Starr doesn't have any more of a chance here than he did on his other big case a few years ago, since there are plenty of prior rulings protecting students' free speech rights off-campus:

      http: [findlaw.com]
    • by fm6 (162816)
      It will also take an attitude adjustment by teachers and administrators. Too many of them are obsessed with being in control. That's not something you're going to change through litigation.
  • by AaxelB (1034884) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:10PM (#18681063)
    It's too bad there's no fair way to clearly define that thin grey line, and it has to be taken on a case-by-case basis (Unless there's some method I'm missing).

    The inefficiency of real justice is aggravating.
    • Fortunately, there is a clear way of defining that line. We have the right to free speech with only two exceptions: Libel and Slander. They are both the same idea, but just pertain to how the statement was disseminated. If you say or write anything that is false about another person, it qualifies as libel/slander. If you say something really really mean, as long as it's the truth, you're in the clear. Calling someone a bitch is not libel/slander as long as you can show that they have at some point or a
  • Good! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mstahl (701501) <<marrrrrk> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:11PM (#18681083) Homepage Journal

    I still remember what it was like to be a teenager, and one of the most frustrating things about it is the feeling of being disenfranchised. I don't think personal attacks and bullying are okay, and I recognize that the Internet is being used more and more frequently for this type of activity, but teenagers still need to feel like they have a voice.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jofny (540291)
      I dont like that phrasing...I think teenagers need to HAVE a voice. So much in our society right now is geared to making people FEEL LIKE they have a voice/choice while all the awhile guiding them down a preset path along which theyve unknowingly given away their choices and their say.
  • by PixieDust (971386) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:14PM (#18681133)
    It's refreshing to see this occasionally happen. My teens aren't that far behind me, and I've gone rounds with various entities about similar things. It's nice to see things like this happen where it's recognized that damnit, in this country, we're SUPPOSED to be able to speak our minds.

    The original case accused the girl in question of identity theft, because the page she posted on was supposed to be the Principal's page (it was created by someone else entirely). When all that was said and done, they had to save face somehow, and so prosecuted the person and declared her delinquent for being "obscene". Counter damages perhaps? I would sooooooooo go after them for that.

    The rant was also not about the principal, but rather about school policy regarding body piercings. Oh how many times I was suspended for criticizing school policy, and faculty for stupidity. Although in some cases, motivating the student body to protest can be helpful. My high school once told us we couldn't bring our purses to school. 2 days of every girl in the school using tampons for hair rollers fixed that one. On the other hand, those of us who organized that, were suspended for a week for insubordination.

    I love seeing cases like this stick it to the man. It's sad that the Constitution so often (aside from being trampled daily) doesn't seem to apply to anyone under the age of 18. With the advent of the internet, however, and online social societies of their own, teens seem to be able to fight for a few more rights, and correct a few more injustices than they were able to even just 10 years ago. That's a great thought. Bolstered by victories now, perhaps the next generation will be less inclined to just roll over while their rights are trampled on than the current generation.

    Time will tell.

    • by wuice (71668)
      I'm glad to see smoeone who still cares about the Constitution.. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to apply much to people over 18 anymore either. As George Bush Jr. said, "The Constitution is just a goddamn piece of paper."
  • Safe Schools Act (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Eyezen (548114) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:18PM (#18681165)
    They tend to get away with it because rightly are wrongly the schools invoke the Safe Schools Act when suppressing speech/activities outside the physical school environment.

    The Safe Schools Act is to school age children what the Patriot Act is to the common citizenry.

  • by radarjd (931774) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:32PM (#18681399)
    It's important to note that the Court of Appeals based the polical speech portion of its opinion [in.gov] on the Indiana Constitution and not the Federal Constitution. State Constitutions can allow greater freedom to the people that the Federal Constitution, but not less. In other words, it's possible this would have come out differently in another state. Of course, I'm from Indiana, so it applies around here.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Comatose51 (687974)
      Uh... not sure about that but California law legalized marijuana but Federal courts said Federal law trumps it.
      • IANAL, so this may not be technically accurate.

        IIRC that was because the regulation of certain substances was seen as falling under the Interstate Commerce Clause. The Interstate Commerce Clause trumps pretty much every question of states' rights, and is the driving force behind a lot of the growth of federal power. If the actions of this kid were in violation of a federal law, and that federal law was related, however tangentially, to interstate commerce, the outcome may have been very different.
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:38PM (#18681473)
    MySpeech is a communciations method. You can use it in keeping with the First Amendment, or you can use it outside of those very real bounds. Saying "MySpace is Free Speech" is like saying "the sounds coming out of your mouth are Free Speech." Well, yeah, unless they're not. As in slander, fraud, incitement, conspiracy, threats, etc.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by radarjd (931774)
      You can use it in keeping with the First Amendment, or you can use it outside of those very real bounds. Saying "MySpace is Free Speech" is like saying "the sounds coming out of your mouth are Free Speech." Well, yeah, unless they're not. As in slander, fraud, incitement, conspiracy, threats, etc.

      I think that's exactly what the case said. The Court considered at least one of the girl's postings:
      Hey you piece of greencastle shit.
      What the fuck do you think of me [now] that you can['t] control me? Huh?

      • by ScentCone (795499)
        I think that's exactly what the case said.

        Right! But it's not what the slashdot headline says! That's my point. There was no finding that MySpace is free speech, and that wasn't even really being discussed, per se. What the court is talking about is whether free speech is free speech... and the MySpace piece of the puzzle is really something of a red herring, and was just there to stoke flames here.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by UnknowingFool (672806)

      MySpeech is a communciations method.

      I am thinking that you are relying too much on the title of an article to imply it's meaning. Slashdot titles are limited in characters so submitters have to be as brief as possible. Sometimes being brief changes the meaning but there isn't much choice. You should RTFA. All it is saying is that anything posted or said on MySpace has as much protection as anything said in real life. Of course it includes the same limitations like libel and treason and harassment. Th

      • by ScentCone (795499)
        I am thinking that you are relying too much on the title of an article to imply it's meaning. Slashdot titles are limited in characters so submitters have to be as brief as possible.

        OK then, how about:

        Student's MySpace Rant Ruled Free Speech ... or,
        Probation Voided - Student's Blog Ruled OK ... or,
        Court: Student's Blog Rant Ugly But Legal ... or,
        Court Finds For Student In Fight Over Speech

        etc.

        I'm not talking about the article, I'm talking about the slashdot editor's obvious flame provocati
  • by bbambrey (582419) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:46PM (#18681609)
    I have long been an advocate of children's/teens rights. They have thoughts, ideas and opinions like adults and have as much, if not more, to gain or lose from the decisions made. In regards to the US:

    -We have and do prosecute children/teens as adults.
    -Spend social security.
    -Go to war.
    -Enact laws on education. (including college funding and rules).
    -Many states allow driving at 16.
    -Some states consider 17 to be a legal adult.

    The decisions we make can have very big impacts and yet we give no voice to children/teens? Why??? What could we do??

    -Lower the voting age.
    -Create children/teen lobbyist or activist groups.

    I have yet to hear a good argument why we can't make these things happen. Why young adults/children/teens can't have more of a say.

    If we can prosecute a teen as an adult then they should have a voice on how the laws impact their lives.

    I welcome ideas...

    /random thoughts.... and probably unorganized
    //should probably get back to work
    ///did not proofread :)
  • by MikeRT (947531) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:55PM (#18681767) Homepage
    The speech occurred off campus and wasn't illegal. Punishing the student for it was a violation of the US Constitution, and the judge ruled accordingly. Too bad the original district judge was too stupid to realize that.
    • The speech occurred off campus and wasn't illegal. Punishing the student for it was a violation of the US Constitution, and the judge ruled accordingly.


      Actually, no. The appeals court ruled it was a violation of the Indiana Constitution, not the federal Constitution, a matter on which the court expressly did not rule.
  • On another note (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BlueTrin (683373)
    While I am quite happy to see freedom of speech win, I found this article [mtv.com], and was shocked by this part:

    From MTV News:
    One of the students named in the suit, Justin Layshock, 19, allegedly created an account in Trosch's name, in which he's described as "a big steroid freak" and "too drunk to remember" his birthday. The profile also suggested that Trosch smoked marijuana and kept a keg of beer behind his desk.

    A different profile, created by student Thomas Cooper, also claimed Trosch was a fan of pornography, while a third, the work of brothers Brendan and Christopher Gebhart, depicted more graphic activities.

    The fake profiles "went far and beyond what you would see on a bathroom wall in a school," Trosch's lawyer, John E. Quinn, told the AP. He added that the person behind a fourth MySpace profile, which he called "the most graphic and lurid of them all," has not yet been identified, but would be a party to the action if and when the person is.

    Although I am for freedom of speech, this looks more like diffamation, I am sure that the myspace page about this girl has nothing to do with this case.

    Although it is not related, I was wondering if you would agree that creating such a fake page could be categorized as diffamation and should be condemned, which is what Zonk [slashdot.org] is saying at the top of this page.

    • I would guess that those people could be accused of libel and/or defamation, since they claim specific facts that reasonably could damage the person's standing in his job and career. Unless the claims are actually true, of course.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by b0s0z0ku (752509)
      Although I am for freedom of speech, this looks more like diffamation, I am sure that the myspace page about this girl has nothing to do with this case.

      Well, if it was obviously and patently fake, it could be considered a satire, and thus protected as free speech. Even if it was defamation, defamation is a _civil_ offense, not one that an adult would draw probation for. A lawsuit verdict or an injunction, sure; but not a criminal's sentence.

      -b.

  • by AciesD (881178) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @05:16PM (#18682051)
    At my high school a friend of mine was expelled his sophomore year for posting "hurtful" comments about a teacher on his blog. They expelled him based on precedent, or so said the school board. So apparently it has happened before. I hope this ruling will lead to some changes in other places.
    • Yes, maybe your friend and people like him will understand that there are responsibilities that go along with freedom of speech and that words and actions have ramifications.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pandrijeczko (588093)
      They were right expelling him. Sorry.

      If you have a problem with a teacher, then it's a matter for you to discuss with your parents and the headmaster ("principal" in US speech) - it has nothing to do with the rest of the world.

      How would you feel if you and I knew each other, we had a grievance over something and I went walking around the streets with a megaphone shouting out how much of a jerk you are? It's the same principle...

      At the grand old age of 45, I'm now going to give you the best piece of ad

  • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @05:20PM (#18682111)
    Translation: "we can't find an actual crime that would stick in a court of law in front of a competent judge or jury, so we'll charge her for not knowing her place in society (under the stomping feet of her elders)"

    Catch-all laws like that annoy me, even if they were originally well meant.

    -b.

    • It appears that Indiana's juvenile justice system uses "delinquency petitions" stating the equivalent adult crimes in place of criminal charges where someone is charged with a juvenile offense, rather than charged as an adult with a crime. This does not appear to be a way around specific criminal laws, as the specific criminal laws that allegedly would have been violated if the wrongdoer was an adult are cited and the application of those laws to the facts appears to be the legal basis for a finding of "del
  • "Hey you piece of greencastle shit. What the fuck do you think of me [now] that you can['t] control me? Huh? Ha ha ha guess what I'll wear my fucking piercings all day long and to school and you can['t] do shit about it! Ha ha fucking ha! Stupid bastard! Oh and kudos to whomever made this ([I'm] pretty sure I know who). Get a background." Wow, to think that the principal became so enraged at this girls posting as to send her off to court! What a wimp! And guess what... She was right and WON!! NEENER NEEN

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