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Judge finds state anti-stalking law unconstitutional

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  1. Newsgathering

    NMU         MICHIGAN         Newsgathering         Jul 25, 2000    

Judge finds state anti-stalking law unconstitutional

  • A federal judge ruled that the anti-stalking law was overbroad and could have resulted in the prosecution of constitutionally protected behavior, such as newsgathering.

Michigan’s anti-stalking law is “unconstitutionally overbroad” and “potentially criminalizes a substantial amount of conduct protected by the First Amendment,” U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen ruled on July 14.

Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm appealed the judge’s ruling less than a week later, arguing that the statute was not overbroad and was of “vital interest to the state.”

Enslen was considering the case of a convicted aggravated stalker, who had been charged under a state law making it a felony to make unwanted contact with a victim two or more times and make a “credible threat” at least once.

In finding the law to limit free speech, the judge noted that the statute would allow a reporter to be prosecuted for repeatedly contacting a reluctant news source. The portion of the law stating “Harassment does not include constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose” could be interpreted to allow the bill to be used against reporters, telemarketers and others, Enslen said.

But Granholm argued in her appeal that the possible limitations on speech must be weighed against the harm done by stalking. “Even if the potential restrictions on speech may be somewhat greater . . . the harm sought to be prevented by the stalking law is correspondingly more urgent,” Granholm wrote, according to the Associated Press.

Granholm’s spokesman, Chris De Witt, said that no briefing schedule has been set for the appeal.

But De Witt said that the attorney general is currently focusing on keeping the convicted stalker in this case, Jerry Lee Staley, behind bars. The district court issued an order for Staley’s release after the law was overturned, but added a two-week stay to give the attorney general’s office the chance to file an appeal. Staley is currently serving a 15- to 20- year sentence for allegedly stalking his ex-girlfriend.

“Our immediate concern is keeping him in prison pending the outcome of the appeal,” De Witt said.

More than 120 prisoners in Michigan may use this ruling to appeal their stalking convictions, The Detroit News reported.

(Michigan v. Staley) SK

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