Defamation Laws

Defamation Laws

When a person is arrested for a minor offense, a citation is issued with a court appearance date.

However, if he or she is arrested for a more serious offense, they are booked into jail and given a set bail amount.  To be released from jail, an arrestee gives the bail amount in cash or property value as a promise or guarantee to appear in court.  When an arrestee cannot pay bail, a bail bond is provided by a third party to pay the court.

At the cost of about 10 percent of the bail amount, the arrestee can be bailed out of jail.  Sometimes a bail bondsman will require collateral of property, home or a car for the bond.  Once bail is posted an arrestee is released from jail with a mandatory court date.  If he or she does not attend the court date, a bail bondsman is entitled to keep the collateral property.

Slander and Libel Defamation

In the United States freedom of speech is protected under the first amendment.  But, a distinction exists between expressing opinions and making statements harming another individuals reputation.  When someone’s reputation is damaged by any false statement made by another it is called defamation or defamation of character.  Two types of defamation exists under state law, slander and libel.  Slander is a spoken false statement that damages someone’s reputation by any medium like blog comments or statements made on television.  Libel are statements only made in writing, including digital statements.

Examples of slander defamation
Telling someone a doctor has fake diplomas on his wall
An employer accusing an employee of stealing
Telling someone a specific person has a sexually transmitted disease

Examples of libel defamation
A newspaper claims a specific business owner embezzled company funds
A coworker makes false statements about another coworker through emails
Accusing a minister of unethical conduct on social media

Both slander and libel defamation are based upon torts or civil wrongs.  In slander lawsuit cases, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff to prove defamatory statements were falsely made.  With libel lawsuit cases, the plaintiff not only proves falsely made statements, but also demonstrates the harm or potential harm to his or her reputation.  In both cases of slanderous or libelous statements certain elements of defamation need to be established.

Defamation elements
1. Proof of false statements through publication
2. A false statement of fact occurred
3. A false statement was made concerning a specific person
4. A false statement damaged or potentially damaged a specific person
5. A false statement does not fit into the ‘privileged’ category

Privilege in defamation cases

Within the privileged category of defamation cases there are two types of privilege, absolute and qualified.  If a statement is absolutely privileged, it cannot be used against an individual in a defamation case.  An individual testifying as a witness in court cannot be sued for defamation for damaging testimony said about someone else.  The same protection from defamation applies to lawyers and judges in court.  Because a jury believes the testimony or not, the testimony given is not considered defamation no matter if it was malicious or not.

Qualified privilege can be claimed in instances when the media reports on issues of public importance.  For example, a newspaper journalist reporting on official government business cannot be considered defamation.  In newspapers nationwide criminal activity is reported.  Criminal cases are a significant public issue making the information privileged.  Qualified privilege also exists in an employment setting.  If an employee says negative statements about a potential employee to their employer it is classified as qualified privilege and cannot be claimed as defamation.

Higher burdens of defamation

In the landmark case of Hustler v. Falwell (1964) the supreme court held that false statements normally classified as defamation for private figures is protected by first amendment rights.  The supreme court also held that public figures could not recover damages in emotional distress unless he or she proves the publication was made knowingly.  The public official or figure suing for defamation must prove the statement was made with malice to intentionally damage the public official’s reputation.

According to the court, public officials suing for defamation can only receive compensation if it’s proven that the statement was not an honest mistake.  Actual malice has to be proven with the intent to harm the public official’s reputation.  Certain individuals in the public eye such as celebrities must prove actual malice as well.  For a successful defamation win public figures must prove the statements were false during publication or the statements were made with reckless disregard to whether it was false or not.

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