Journo’s Breach of Peace Conviction Reinstated

     HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) — The Connecticut Supreme Court rejected a journalist’s appeal of a harassment conviction after she was found guilty of making a fake Facebook profile to harass her boyfriend’s teen daughter, and it reinstated a second conviction.
     In 2010, investigative journalist Teri Buhl was charged with second-degree harassment and second-degree breaching the peace after Buhl was accused of creating a fake Facebook profile to publish sexual content about her then-boyfriend’s adolescent daughter.
     The page was made under the fake name Tasha Moore, and posts allegedly accused the teen of drinking to the point of throwing up during intercourse. The account also published several photos of the teen’s diary, according to court records.
     Buhl was found guilty of both misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to 30 days in prison and a year of probation.
     While a Connecticut appeals court found insufficient evidence to support the breaching the peace charge against Buhl, the state’s high court reversed and remanded the case with orders to affirm both charges from the trial court.
     Justice Richard Robinson, writing for the Connecticut Supreme Court in a June 21 opinion, quoted several posts from the account, which appears to have been deleted. The teen, who was underage when the fake account was created, is referred to as “M” throughout the ruling.
     One status allegedly said: “[M] gets so drunk at parties that boys know she is an easy hook up. In April . . . she gave [O] a blow job [at a party] and then threw up… [M] told her friends she thought giving the best [blow job] would help make [O] her boyfriend. You wonder why some [of the] girls [at M’s high school] never learn how to behave around boys.”
     The opinion affirmed that there was sufficient evidence that the Facebook posts were publicly exhibited.
     “The breach of the peace conviction must be reinstated because the trial court reasonably could have found that the state had met its burden of proving the other elements of the crime at trial, namely, that…the defendant was the person who posted M’s diary entries on Facebook; and…the defendant intended to ‘inconvenience, [annoy] or alarm’ M by posting her diary entries on Facebook,” Robinson wrote.
     Buhl wrote about the ordeal on her website, where she denies having anything to do with the Facebook page.
     “[M] was the only person in the State’s case that testified she actually saw the Facebook page when another friend of hers had told her about the posting,” Buhl wrote. “She testified you had to be invited to see the page and she wasn’t invited so she had to view it through her friends Facebook account. She changed her testimony a few times during cross examination to say at some point she was able to see the Facebook page also from her own account.”
     Buhl claims that the whole ordeal unraveled over an investigative piece she was writing about underage drinking.
     “In November 2010 I was arrested for interference with a police investigation, 2nd degree breach of peace, 2nd degree harassment while working on a story about wealthy Wall Street families that enabled underage drinking and drug parties where teens were getting hurt,” Buhl said. “I was following the actions of a group of concerned and frustrated parents who had identified around five ‘party houses’ where the local New Canaan cops alleged knew there were underage parties happening but did not use Connecticut laws to investigate and arrest parents for their role in supporting and enabling these parties.”
     Buhl said that, if she could not get the charges dismissed, people in Fairfield County, Conn., “should all be worried.”
     “The state court is simply trying to criminalize speech about uncomfortable subjects,” she wrote.
     All justices concurred with the Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling.
     Buhl told the New Canaan Advertiser on June 15 that she is “not afraid to go to jail.”
     “I knew going into the trial when I didn’t accept the state’s [plea] deal that I could go to jail for not revealing sources. I am proud of my journalist ethics and decision to fight this case instead of making a plea deal as so many often have do,” she reportedly said.
     Buhl’s attorney, Stephen Seeger, told the Advertiser that they plan to appeal the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling.
     “We’re going to pursue the matter further, and who knows, maybe it will end up in front of the [U.S.] Supreme Court,” he said.
     
     
     CORRECTION — A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Connecticut Supreme Court’s opinion cited the fact that Buhl’s IP address had been connected to the Facebook page as sufficient proof that she was involved.
     According to the ruling, a police investigator testified that information she received “indicated that the IP address she had been investigating belonged to the defendant,” but the trial court found no evidence directly linking Buhl’s IP address to the Tasha Moore Facebook page.
     The Connecticut Supreme Court said circumstantial, rather than direct, evidence shows Buhl posted M’s diary entries to Facebook. Courthouse News regrets the mistake.

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