Last week, the New York Court of Appeals issued an opinion that invalidated the state’s “aggravated harassment” statute. The opinion is based on an appeal by Raphael Golb in the case that is also known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls case.” There is a great breakdown of the case over at Simple Justice.
The Court of Appeals found as follows:
“Penal Law § 240.30(1)(a) provides that ‘[a] person is guilty of aggravated harassment in the second degree when, with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person, he or she … communicates with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, by telegraph, or by mail, or by transmitting or delivering any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.’ We agree with defendant that this statute is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad . . .”
While it’s good to see that the right to intentionally annoy is still alive and well, Mr. Golb still had 20 of his 30 convictions affirmed. Chief Judge Lippman, in his dissent, disagreed with his colleagues and stated that he would have dismissed the indictment in its entirety. Judge Lippman argued that he would have found the criminal impersonation statute overbroad as well, and he also stated that he found the use of the forgery statute in this manner to be “similarly objectionable.”
It’s a good thing Judge Lippman understands the internet as well as the implications in prosecuting cases like this. In discussing the criminal impersonation statute, he states, “In an age in which pseudonymous communication has become ubiquitous, particularly on the internet, this statute, literally understood, criminalizes a vast amount of speech that the First Amendment protects.”
Finally, Christopher Dunn, associate director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, sums up the issue well. When interviewed by the New York Times about the court’s ruling, he commented that “Political, religious and other speech often is intended to be annoying. But that is precisely the type of speech the First Amendment was designed to protect.”