The Associated Press reports:
The Nebraska Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether profanity-laced e-mails sent to a college professor who was a candidate for political office were criminal in nature or protected free speech.
Darren Drahota was convicted of disturbing the peace and fined $250 for e-mails he sent in 2006 to former University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor Bill Avery. At the time, Avery was running for a seat in the Nebraska Legislature, which he won, and Drahota was a UNL student.
Read more in the Sioux City Journal.
In June, the state Court of Appeals’ upheld the conviction and sentence. That ruling noted that Drahota used a libelous address, averylovesalqueda(at)yahoo.com, to send angry messages accusing Avery of treason, among other things.
Eugene Volokh, who is involved in the case on a pro bono basis, has blogged about the case on his site.
Over on Feminist Law Professors, Ann Bartow quotes the two emails that formed the basis for the criminal prosecution and adds her own perspective:
Almost every feminist blogger I know has received this kind of e-mail or much worse, but rarely (never that I am aware of) will law enforcement take any action. The e-mailers are savvy enough to make only passive statements rather than overt threats, writing e.g. “You should choke on an enormous dick and die” rather than directly stating that they will kill you, and the pro forma police response is “this isn’t any actual threat and we can’t arrest people just for being nasty.” Here Avery’s concern about the e-mails was taken seriously by the police, and then by judges at both the trial and appellate levels. Some civil libertarians are enraged by this, perceiving an acute threat to the First Amendment if people like Drahota don’t have the right to send these kinds of anonymous e-mails to people who have asked them to cease contact. So this case bears watching.