Libel law case analysis

The case: A student who had just been recognized for  the National Merit Scholarship is found guilty of stealing, and police officers enter a classroom and remove the student from school. A student journalist for the school wants to publish a story on it.

Starting with the Hazelwood ruling: This case fits within Hazelwood in respect to the rights of the student journalist to publish a story on the student who was arrested within the classroom. Within this case, an example of  a nonpublic forum is expressed. A nonpublic forum includes but is not limited to public schools, jails, and/or a military base unless declared otherwise by the government. Therefore these forums can be restricted based on the content published or spoken, but not by the viewpoint. Regardless of forum, any exclusion of a viewpoint is unconstitutional, but since the witnessed case was within a nonpublic forum, and the journalism class is school funded, any published word on the occurence is subjected to censorship.

Consider libel possibilities: Under libel law, the disclosure of an arrest within a nonpublic forum, along with the potential for the student to be a minor, applies to the invasion of privacy rule within the Unprotected Nine. Under Minnesota Statue 260B.171 12, a minor’s criminal records are private, and if the student was 18, his arrest was witnessed within a censorable nonpublic forum. Any facts stated beyond the arrest itself could be deemed as defamation.

First amendment rights: Hazelwood states that school officials can censor student media that is school-sponsored and not a public forum. Any spoken word or published information on the events that commenced within the classroom are protected under the First Amendment as long as the story is a legitimate collection of what was witnessed, no other information stated unless the student was 18, which upon conviction would have complete public records. Although information can be published, censorship is “reasonably related to legitimate educational concerns.” Despite that Hazelwood states if censorship has “no valid educational purpose,” it will be struck down as unconstitutional, the student who was arrested gets protection under the nonpublic forum. This is under the Tinker ruling, as it has potential to invade on the rights of the arrested student, and information presented without fact can be deemed libelous, therefore making school censorship legal.

Right to know vs. need to know and public versus private citizen: In this situation, the student arrested is not a public figure and is regarded as a private citizen, regardless of National Merit Scholarship recognition. Within the story that could be published, students do not have a right to know the information as the student poses no imminent danger to other citizens. It is a high school paper, therefore the information (that is censorable) published could defame the student and make the information a ‘need’ to know.

Consider data privacy and public records: In the event that the students had stolen more than $1000, they would be convicted of felony. Regardless of whether the student was 17 (a legal minor) or 18, a  juvenile 14 or older charged with a felony, will be charged as an adult in public court with public records under Minnesota Statute 260B.163. Although, in the event that the amount stolen was less than $1000, the students would be charged with gross misdemeanor, and the rule established by Minn. Stat. §260B.171,12 states records of juvenile delinquency cases are private and cannot be accessed by the general public. Regardless of felony or gross misdemeanor, if the student was 18, he would be charged as an adult with fully disclosable records. Overall, this information is not a right to know as the student does not pose imminent danger to others, and would be concerned as a need to know.

Sources for this conclusion:
“Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier.” ©2008 Student Press Law Center. Web. 02 May 2016.

    • “What Type of Speech Is Not Protected by the First Amendment?” HG.org. Web. 02 May 2016.
    • “Children Rights.” Web. 02 May 2016.
    • “Juvenile Crime Law.” Web. 02 May 2016.
    • “Juvenile Records in Minnesota.” Council on Crime and Justice. Web.
    • Baldwin, Lauren. “Failing to Appear in Court: Missing Court Dates and Consequences Criminal Law.” CriminalDefenseLawyer.com. NOLO. Web. 02 May 2016.
    • “Levels of Offenses.” Criminal Offense Levels. Web. 02 May 2016.
    • “Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Educators’ Ass’n 460 U.S. 37 (1983).” Justia Law. Web. 02 May 2016.
    • Knop, Karen. “Citizenship, Public and Private.” Duke Law. Duke University, 27 Oct. 2008. Web. 2 May 2016.
    • “Legal Information Institute.” Legal Information Institute. LII. Web. 02 May 2016.
    • “Constitutional Rights in Juvenile Cases.” Nolo.com. NOLO. Web. 02 May 2016.
    • Shah, Raya, Jamie Gullen, and Lauren Fine. “Juvenile Records.” National Review. Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. Web.
    • “Forum (legal).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 02 May 2016.
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