Bill to repeal criminal libel passed unanimously in Senate
“Oh by the way, if you read the statute it says you can still be charged in Colorado with criminal libel even if what you stated is true.”
— District 1 State Sen. Greg Brophy
In early 2004, the home of a former University of Northern Colorado student was raided by Greeley police officers that were investigating a case of criminal libel.
The home belonged to Tom Mink, the publisher of a satirical web site called “The Howling Pig.”
Mink used the site to post satirical criticisms of university officials.
One professor did not take a particular post, of which he was the subject, in good humor and convinced Weld County prosecutor Susan Knox to sign off on the libel investigation.
Mink later sued the City of Greeley and Knox.
He was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit that spent nearly eight years in the legal system, including three trips to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is one rung below the United States Supreme Court.
Mink in December 2011 received a $425,000 settlement from Knox. The City of Greeley settled shortly after the lawsuit was filed.
Despite the end result, District 1 State Senator Greg Brophy, R-Wray, was motivated by Mink’s story to write Senate Bill 12-102, which repeals libel as a criminal offense.
Under current Colorado law it is considered criminal libel if you knowingly publish anything that would tarnish someone’s honesty, integrity, virtue or reputation that in turn exposes them to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, Brophy said.
The law also applies if you publish something that would be detrimental to someone who is no longer living.
“Oh by the way,” Brophy said, “if you read the statute it says you can still be charged in Colorado with criminal libel even if what you stated is true.”
Currently, criminal libel is prosecuted as a Class 6 felony, which carries the penalty of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
The Senate on Monday passed SB12-102 unanimously by a vote of 35-0. It will be sent to the Colorado House of Representatives for consideration.
"Senate Bill 102 protects free speech by removing an antiquated law from our books," said Brophy. "This bill will take the heavy hand of government out of prosecuting individuals for exercising their first amendment right.”
District 8 State Sen. Jean White, R-Hayden, supported SB12-102.
“I’m always happy when we can repeal things,” White said. “Especially in the case of an antiquated law such as this one.
“It’s a free speech issue and I was happy to support it.”
If confirmed by the House, which Brophy is confident about, the repeal will go into effect Sept. 1.