Friday, November 04, 2005

Exceptions to the exception... 

Darren Chaker is either a magnet for police brutality, or he's a criminal and liar who routinely files false allegations of abuse to try and throw wrenches in the system when he gets caught. (He has filed at least ten lawsuits against law enforcement, and has been declared a vexatious litigant in at least one instance.)

He tried again when arrested for theft in 1996, claiming excessive force. An independent witness to the arrest, however, saw nothing of the sort. Chaker was charged, tried, and convicted under a California law making it a misdemeanor to knowingly file a false complaint about a police officer. He appeals on First Amendment grounds. The Ninth Circuit buys it. To Chaker, lying to the officer's supervisor was something he had a right to take a free shot at:
"It was up to the police department to determine if the speech was false," Chaker said. "I made a complaint against a police officer for twisting my wrist and was charged as a criminal."
(Note - he also said he was struck in the ribs and that the officer braked while he was unsecured in the back, hurting him further - in total, somehow causing $25,000 worth of damages.)

The Ninth Circuit's rationale - which you can read here - is that because the statute is silent on penalizing false statements in support of the police, false allegations of abuse are being discriminated against on viewpoint grounds. Well, malicious bullshit is a point of view, I suppose.

The 9th Circuit notes - for the purpose of discarding - that false statements against public officials are not protected by the First Amendment. The Court's problem in this case was the under-inclusiveness of the regulation - regulating false statements by the complainant while not prohibiting same by parties taking the opposite side. However, it is noted in the opinion itself that under-inclusiveness is also not barred by the First Amendment. (And since the stated problem the legislation was intended to address was an increase in false abuse allegations - the Court could have read the legislation as being narrowly tailored to address a specific problem rather than a sinister attempt to criminalize criticism of the government - but you know the 9th Circuit. Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to.)

Also, the California Supreme Court had previously ruled unanimously in a separate case that the law in question did not violate the First Amendment. (People v. Stanistreet, 29 Cal. 4th 497 - can be found by searching here.)

A quick search through the blogosphere turns up a defense of the decision here.

The State may either ask for reconsideration or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Should they choose the latter - I suspect another in a long line of 9th Circuit reversals.

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