Court to decide if Texas can enforce #‘revenge porn’ #law


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Lower court said the 2015 law violated free-speech protections.

The state’s highest criminal court announced Wednesday that it will determine whether Texas can continue to enforce a “revenge porn” law that makes it a crime to share naked or sexually explicit photos and videos without consent.

The law’s future came under question in April, when a Tyler-based state appeals court struck it down for violating the First Amendment’s free-speech protections. The case arose from a legal challenge by Jordan Bartlett Jones, a Smith County man who was charged with using social media to display a naked photograph of a woman he knew from a prior relationship.

Lawyers for Texas appealed, and on Wednesday the Court of Criminal Appeals said it would review the lower-court ruling, making no comment on the case beyond noting that its nine judges will rule based on written briefs without hearing oral arguments.

The Legislature approved the revenge porn bill in 2o15 after victims and victim advocates complained of harassment, stalking and humiliation after intimate photos and videos were published online — often by a former partner or spouse — without their permission.

Under the Texas law, it doesn’t matter if the images were recorded consensually or freely provided by the victim as long as there was a reasonable expectation that the visuals were intended to be kept private, the victim is identifiable and the disclosure “causes harm to the depicted person.”

As originally adopted, violations were misdemeanors that could be punished by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

In 2017, lawmakers raised the offense to a state jail felony with a maximum punishment of two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

In April, however, the Tyler-based 12th Court of Appeals struck down the law for violating the First Amendment by requiring the government to examine what was depicted in photos or videos to determine whether the law was broken. That is a “content-based” restriction, the court said, and, under U.S. Supreme Court rulings, it is almost impossible to justify government limits based on the subject matter of photos, speeches and other forms of expression.

Stacey Soule — the state prosecuting attorney who believes the law protects revenge porn victims from invasions of privacy that have led to stalking, threats of sexual assault and suicide — said she was “extremely pleased” that the Tyler court’s ruling will be reviewed.

“I am confident that the Court of Criminal Appeals will reverse the lower court’s opinion and uphold the statute, which the Texas Legislature skillfully crafted to protect the fundamental privacy interests of Texans while respecting core freedom of speech protections,” Soule said.

But Mark Bennett, a Houston lawyer leading legal challenges to the revenge porn law by Jones and several other men charged with the crime, has argued that allowing privacy rights to trump free speech would substantially weaken the First Amendment.

“I’m not standing up there saying, ‘Hey, these are societally valuable images.’ What I’m saying is we can’t make an exception for these images without putting at risk lots of other speech that is unambiguously valuable,” he told the American-Statesman in June. “This is an attempt by the state to open up a new area of unprotected speech. If the state’s argument succeeds, then who knows what speech will be next, who knows what the government will be coming after next?”

Briefs will be due at the appeals court over the next two months, though time extensions are available and frequently granted.

Source: https://www.mystatesman.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/court-decide-texas-can-enforce-revenge-porn-law/PNxwimSieuYixr5bJJeZaP/


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