Sunday, September 02, 2007


The more I think about it, the more I have to ask whether or not the law under which Yuri Wainwright was charged is an attempt to outlaw "free speech."

Why would I say this? Consider the following:

1. The term "injury" isn't defined in the chapter in which this anti-free-speech law in contained.
2. Any "message" posted in "any medium of communication" is subject to this law.
3. The "injury" claim can come from "any person," not just the person who may or may not be mentioned in the "message."

The only mitigating factor, the only part left up to a jury, is whether or not the "message" is "for the purpose of causing injury to any person." Intent, I would think, is fairly difficult to prove. But not impossible--all it would take is a slick lawyer making a case to a dumbed-down jury.

What is "injury?"

Since "injury" isn't defined in the code, how is that word defined in say, the dictionary? lists a legal definition of injury as:

4. Law. any wrong or violation of the rights, property, reputation, etc., of another for which legal action to recover damages may be made.

So according to this definition, a person's reputation can in fact suffer "injury." At what point does injury to a reputation become illegal? It would be helpful if this law would tell us, but it does not. We know that Yuri Wainwright was not satisfied with the quality of his education. If he posted a message that said "I think the University of Southern Mississippi's architecture department is useless," could that be construed as causing "injury" to the reputation of the university and/or one of its academic departments? Of course it could--and probably should.

But is it illegal--or more precisely, should it be illegal to express one's opinion about the architecture department? I should think that this goes to the very essence of the First Amendment. For example, if I say that "George W. Bush is a moron and is unfit to be president," could I, under MS Code 97-45-17, be charged by not just Bush, but any and/or all of his supporters who feel that I have injured Bush's reputation as well as the reputations of his supporters? I'd argue that yes, under the vague language of this law, I could be prosecuted for saying that.

Should I be able to be prosecuted for saying that? I'd like to think that the First Amendment and related judicial precedents would render the very question inane, but 97-45-17 seems to render the likelihood of my prosecution for such a statement a very open question indeed.

Was Wainwright in fact arrested for something that's been "hiding in plain sight" on his MySpace page? In his "About Me" section, he says the following:

"Yuri switched his alliterative identity of a pothead philosopher to an alcoholic architect. As soon as he graduates from a rinky dink excuse for a school(with good teachers, amazingly), he will promtly move to a different place where the scenery doesnt quite match the morass of its inhabitants."

The University of Southern Mississippi is not mentioned by name on Wainwright's page. But someone with an axe to grind against Wainwright could conceivably argue that he caused injury to the university's reputation among people who knew he was USM student, including the faculty member who supposedly turned him in.

Is that far-fetched? Well, consider the fact that, according to the Hattiesburg American, Wainwright "has been placed on interim suspension by Southern Miss." For that status to apply to Wainwright, all that must happen is that
"the president of the university or a designated administrator determines that the presence of a student would reasonably constitute clear and present danger to the university community or property" (Section 11 of USM Student Handbook). Would someone bad-mouthing the university "reasonably constitute" a "clear and present danger" to the university? Probably not. Unless Wainwright saw something involving a professor that he wasn't supposed to see and let it be known that he was going to go public or something. Or something similar--who knows?

But I'm getting away from my point. It strikes me that 97-45-17 of the MS Code is unconstitutional and should be struck down. Maybe Wainwright's case will help that happen--if they ever get off their ass and try him.

1 comment:

Josh Scarabin said...

USM charged me with the same thing! I plead to it just to get out of jail after my attorney said they could hold me for 2 yrs if I didn’t plea. I was in jail for 7.5 months with no preliminary and no bond reduction. Neither my lawyer nor USM ever revealed what they considered an “Injurious message”