On Tuesday, July 1 the New York State Court of Appeals reversed a ruling in Albany district court upholding the city’s application of its newly instituted cyberbullying law in a case involving a teenage boy, and a lewd Facebook page he created involving some of his classmates.
Once identified by police, the teenager was charged with cyberbullying punishable by up to a year in jail, and a $1,000 fine in Albany County. He then moved to dismiss in City Court arguing that the law violated his right to free speech under the First Amendment.
When the motion was denied, he pleaded guilty to one count of the misdemeanor offense, but reserved his right to raise the First Amendment arguments on appeal.
Overbreadth Doctrine & Strict Scrutiny
After the district court upheld the local court’s ruling, the case was granted leave to appeal by the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
In its review, the Court utilized the Overbreadth Doctrine in determining whether the legislative language of the local law over-stepped its boundaries under the First Amendment.
In so doing, the Court wrote that:
“Cyberbullying is not conceptually immune from government regulation, so we may assume, for the purposes of this case, that the First Amendment permits the prohibition of cyberbullying directed at children, depending on how that activity is defined […]” And that:
“This type of facial challenge, which is restricted to cases implicating the First Amendment, requires a court to assess the wording of the statute –“without reference to the defendant’s conduct” […]”
In its analysis of the legislative text, the high Court found there to be too many broad references to implicated and protected forms of free speech, and that the law could not survive strict scrutiny under its severability clause because there were too many portions of the legislative text that would need to be stricken.
Judge Graffeo wrote for the majority in its finding that the law is overbroad and constitutionally invalid; and the Court’s decision to reverse the order of County Court and have the accusatory instrument dismissed.
About the author: Justine Flaherty is a freelance writer and editor specializing in web content sine 2008. A lifelong learner, Justine is driven by her curiosity for all things containing a human element, especially education and the law. Connect with her on Google Plus.