(CN) - A prisoner was not defamed by a newspaper's false report that he had cooperated with authorities against an accomplice, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled.
Paul Sanguedolce sued the Telegraph newspaper and reporter Andrew Wolfe for their published statement that Sanguedolce testified against Peter Gibbs, his accomplice in a home invasion and robbery.
Sanguedolce did not testify against Gibbs. However, the Telegraph argued that the statement was not by nature defamatory. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case.
Sanguedolce argued that informants are held in low esteem, which would result in the public considering him a "rat, tattletale, snitch or had, perhaps, committed perjury or cut a deal in exchange for leniency."
The state's highest court rejected that argument, noting that the article did not report that Sanguedolce had committed perjury. In an opinion written by Justice Hicks, the court also ruled that the newspaper's statement did not reduce the public esteem of Sanguedolce.
"It may be that some elements in our society would look unkindly on those who willingly cooperate with authorities in apprehending or convicting a criminal. Prisoners, in particular, may harbor these sentiments," Hicks wrote.
"The prevailing view among law-abiding citizens, however, is that such conduct reflects good moral character, respect for the rule of law, and a willingness to place truth, justice and the social order above one's own self-interest or petty loyalties," he added.
However, the court ruled that Sanuedolce's attempt to amend his complaint to add a negligence claim should have succeeded, because it was a different argument than the defamation claim. Hicks and his colleagues remanded the case to continue on the negligence claim.
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