It’s rare that we see long-term jail sentences for people who attempt to overstep the boundaries and commit criminal acts in the name of the First Amendment. One Mississippi blogger found out otherwise the hard way recently when he was charged with burglary, attempted burglary, and conspiracy. This after the man claims he was talked into a dying woman’s hospital room at the behest of Tea Party supporters who opposed the woman’s husband, a man running in opposition. As the woman lay dying, the blogger entered her room on Easter Sunday of 2014 to get sensitive material that would indicate her husband was having an affair with a long-time staffer. The suspect used his mobile phone to take video footage of her as she lay sleeping in her hospital room. The man would then use the video on his blog in correlation with a scathing piece on the woman’s husband about his alleged affair. By all accounts, the woman died in November and her husband was remarried to the staffer by May, but none of that mattered in court where a judge said even though the suspect had no intent to harm the woman, breaking the law by entering the woman’s room and taking video of her has nothing to do with the First Amendment.
The suspect’s attorney argued that he was let into the room and that he should be protected by the First Amendment for simply trying to expose a hypocritical politician. So, what was burgled you might ask? Well, in Mississippi, burglary is defined as breaking and entering into a structure with the intent to commit a crime, just as it is in every other state. In this case, however, the prosecution argued that the suspect did commit a crime by exploiting “a vulnerable person for another’s profit or advantage with or without consent of the vulnerable person.” However, in Grayned v. City of Rockford, the Supreme Court said that people of ordinary intelligence must have a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited. Because of the vague laws surrounding what may or may not be a “vulnerable person,” some serious questions arose over what crimes were committed. Eventually, the suspect took a plea deal that ends with a two and a half year jail sentence, substantially less than he would have received had the original charges stuck.
If you have questions about criminal defense and the First Amendment, please contact Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Gary Gerson today for a free consultation at 412-219-6875 .