ST. LOUIS (CN) – The Missouri Supreme Court struck down part of “Megan’s Law,” an anti-stalking and harassment law inspired by the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier.
In a separate case at issue, attorneys for Danny Vaughn claimed that Megan’s Law was overly broad and violates due process and freedom of speech rights.
Vaughn was charged with harassment and burglary for entering his former wife’s home without permission and making repeated unwanted telephone calls to her. Vaughn’s lawyers challenged portions of the law that allow charges against anyone who “knowingly makes repeated unwanted communication to another person” and who “without good cause engages in any other act with the purpose to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress to another person.”
A state court agreed with Vaughn’s attorneys and dismissed.
In response to the state’s appeal, the Missouri Supreme Court found with the lower court and struck down portions of the law.
“Narrowing constructions cannot save this subdivision of the statute,” Judge William Ray Price Jr. wrote. “‘Repeated,’ ‘unwanted,’ and ‘communicate’ are simply words that can be applied too broadly. Even with the state’s suggested constructions, subdivision (5) still criminalizes any person who knowingly communicates more than once with another individual who does not want to receive the communications. Although the statute purports to criminalize ‘harassment,’ subdivision (5), unlike the other subdivisions, does not require the conduct to actually harass in any sense of the word. Rather, it criminalizes a person who ‘knowingly makes repeated unwanted communication to another person.’
“A few examples illustrate the statute’s potential chilling effect upon political speech as well as everyday communications. For instance, individuals picketing a private or public entity would have to cease once they were informed their protestations were unwanted. A teacher would be unable to call a second time on a student once the pupil asked to be left alone. Salvation Army bell-ringers collecting money for charity could be prosecuted for harassment if they ask a passerby for a donation after being told, ‘I’ve already given; please don’t ask again.’ An advertising campaign urging an elected official to change his or her position on a controversial issue would be criminalized.”
The state supreme court upheld another section of the law involving categories of harassment. It remanded that part of the Vaughn case to the circuit court for further consideration.
Megan’s Law was passed in 2008. Megan Meier took her own life in 2007 after being bullied on MySpace.