Minnesota Court of Appeals overturns revenge porn law

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has overturned a state law that makes it illegal to disseminate private sexual images of someone without their permission, arguing it’s overbroad and a violation of First Amendment rights.

The ruling Monday upends the state’s 2016 law addressing revenge porn and has supporters pushing for a review by the state Supreme Court.

A three-judge panel found the revenge porn law not only covered situations where someone knowingly posts explicit images of someone without their permission, but also situations where someone might not know the other individual did not consent to its publication and “did not cause or intend to cause a specified harm.”

It overturns a district court ruling, as well as a felony conviction for Michael Casillas, who was charged in Dakota County in 2017 under the revenge porn law after disseminating videos of an ex-partner in a sexual act with another person. The lower court argued that Casillas used his partner's passwords to access the videos and then texted his ex noting that he planned to send them out, meaning he knew it was against the person’s wishes.

The Court of Appeals said its ruling does not condone Casillas’ behavior, which it called “abhorrent.”

“Nor should it be read as failing to appreciate the significant harm that the nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images causes,” the ruling read. “The state legitimately seeks to punish that conduct. But the state cannot do so under a statute that is written too broadly and therefore violates the First Amendment. In the end, we are constitutionally obligated to faithfully apply the law.”

Supporters of the revenge porn law say it's necessary to address the growing trend of people posting explicit images of others without their permission, often after a relationship has gone sour.

DFL Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, who championed the legislation, said he’s disappointed by the ruling and hopes it’s reviewed by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

"The court has decided to ignore privacy rights in favor of free speech,” he said. “Individual privacy rights can be just as important as free speech, especially when it's hurting people"

Other state supreme courts have ruled that revenge porn is not protected under free speech, including Illinois as recently as October.

If the courts don’t restore the law, Lesch said he’ll bring the issue back to the Legislature to rewrite it.

Attorney John Arechigo, who argued on behalf of Casillas, said it will be challenging to write a law that is narrow enough so that it doesn’t violate free speech.

"If you want to try and do that then the law has to be extremely narrow, extremely limited to reach absolute invasions of privacy where the actor had a very specific intent to case harm to the subject,” he said.

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