In June, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling reversing the cyberbullying conviction of a high school student that has been working its way through the court system for the last three years.
The student, identified in court documents as A.J.B., was originally charged under Minnesota’s mail-harassment laws. The case, which involved a series of tweets containing insults mocking the target’s autism and sexuality, raised concerns over the law’s potential infringement of the First Amendment.
A.J.B. was originally found guilty in juvenile court of multiple charges of stalking and harassment under Minnesota’s mail harassment laws. On appeal, the Court of Appeals allowed the Minnesota cyberbullying case conviction to stand, prompting the further appeal to the state’s supreme court.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court ruling, finding that the laws were, in fact, too broad and as a result could provide an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. In its opinion, written by Justice Paul Thissen, the court explained that while First Amendment protections are not limitless, here the line separating speech that could be regulated by the government had not been crossed.
Instead, the law was overbroad because it could be used against someone who didn’t know or intend that their communications “frighten, threaten, oppress, persecute, or intimidate” the target.
“Obviously, we consider this a pretty big victory three years in the making,” said the attorney for the defendant, John Arechigo. “It’s certainly a win for freedom of speech.”