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Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds Revenge Porn Law

Updated: Jan 1

In 2016 Minnesota Statutes section 617.261 was enacted to criminalize revenge porn. In 2017 the Dakota County Attorney's Office charged an individual with violating the statute. After the defendant stipulated to the facts of the case, District Court Judge Jerome Abrams convicted the defendant and sentenced him to 23 months in prison in early 2019. On appeal later that year, a three-judge Minnesota Court of Appeals panel held that the statute is overbroad on its face in violation of the First Amendment. In doing so, the court noted that the statute "allows a person to be convicted ... even if he did not actually know that the person depicted in the image did not consent to the dissemination or that the image was obtained or created under circumstances in which the person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy" and "does not require proof that the disseminator caused or intended a specified harm."

On December 30, 2020, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and upheld the statute. In doing so, the Court agreed that the statute applies to some speech that is protected by the First Amendment. However, the Court ruled that the statute serves a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to serving that interest. The Court noted that "to be prosecuted under the statute, a disseminator must act without consent." The Court elaborated in stating that "[i]n our view, it is not difficult to obtain consent before disseminating a private sexual image. Simply ask permission. We cannot imagine an emergency situation that requires the immediate dissemination of a private sexual image." The Court also noted that the statute "covers only private sexual images and does not prohibit speech that is 'at the core of protected First Amendment speech.'"

News coverage of the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision is available from the Star Tribune and the Associated Press. Previous coverage of the case is available from Courthouse News Service, Mpls. St.Paul Magazine, MPR News, and the Star Tribune.

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