When we think of libel, we think of it as part of a diabolical plan against someone that completely destroys someone for a bigger purpose. In reality, Libel can be much more subtle than that.
What is the legal definition of Libel?
“Libel” is defined in NRS 200.467:
- A libel is a malicious defamation, expressed by printing, writing, signs, pictures or the like, tending to blacken the memory of the dead, or to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation, or to publish the natural defects of a living person or persons, or community of persons, or association of persons, and thereby to expose them to public hatred, contempt or ridicule
What is hard to understand about that?
What is malicious defamation?
The best way to define this is break up the phrase into individual words (1) malicious and (2) defamation. Let’s talk about defamation first.
Defamation- defamation is a defamatory statement of and concerning the plaintiff (or in this case, the victim), which is publicized to a third party; is the fault of the defendant; and that there are damages. Defamatory Statement is one that is false and causes people to not want to associate with him or her.
Publicized, in this context, means that the statement needs to be communicated to somebody else.
Malicious (Malice)- In this context, malice simply means that the person making the statement knew it was false or acted with reckless disregard as to the validity of the statement.
- If a person sends an email that states that person B is a Neo-Nazi that beats up on people of different races and religions to another person that is not person B, that person may be criminally charged with Libel.
- If a person communicates to somebody else that they heard from person A that person B is a Neo-Nazi that likes to beat up on people of different races or religions that person may be criminally charged with Libel.
- If an individual shows a picture of person B that was photoshopped so it looks like he is a Neo-Nazi when he is not, that individual could be criminally charged with Libel.
Please Note: An individual that makes a defamatory statement does not necessarily need to know that its false. An individual only needs to act with reckless disregard as to the truth of the statement. In other words, if the individual does not care of it is true or false or does not reasonably try to find if the statement is true before it is communicated to another person, could be charged with Libel.
What are the possible penalties?
Libel is a gross misdemeanor and carries with it:
- Up to 1 year in Jail; and/or
- A fine of up to $2,000
Are there any Defenses?
There are always defenses that might apply to your case. For “libel” charges, those defenses include:
- Truth – If the statement is true, then it can not be defamatory no matter what happens to the person’s reputation as a result of the statement.
- Attempted to find out the truth- If a person did some research and came to a reasonable conclusion that the statement was true, when in fact, it was not, there is no malice, which is required to be criminally responsible for libel. If this is the case, the charges should be dropped or dismissed.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with Libel?
As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.