819 N.W.2d 94 (Minn. 2012), A09-1795, State v. Crawley

Docket NºA09-1795.
Citation819 N.W.2d 94
Opinion JudgeANDERSON, G. BARRY, Justice.
Party NameSTATE of Minnesota, Appellant, v. Melissa Jean CRAWLEY, Respondent.
AttorneyLori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, MN; and Karin L. Sonneman, Winona County Attorney, Stephanie E. Nuttall, Assistant Winona County Attorney, Winona, MN, for appellant. John M. Stuart, Minnesota State Public Defender, St. Paul, MN; and Scott M. Flaherty, Briggs and Morgan, P.A., Minneapoli...
Judge PanelDissenting, STRAS, ANDERSON, PAUL H. and MEYER, JJ. STRAS, Justice (dissenting). ANDERSON, Paul H. (dissenting). I join in the dissent of Justice Stras. MEYER, Justice (dissenting). I join in the dissent of Justice Stras.
Case DateAugust 08, 2012
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota

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819 N.W.2d 94 (Minn. 2012)

STATE of Minnesota, Appellant,

v.

Melissa Jean CRAWLEY, Respondent.

No. A09-1795.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

August 8, 2012

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Syllabus by the Court

1. Minnesota Statutes § 609.505, subd. 2 (2010), narrowly construed, makes it a crime for a person to inform a peace officer, whose responsibilities include investigating or reporting police misconduct, that another peace officer committed an act of police misconduct, knowing that the information is false.

2. Under our narrowing construction, Minn.Stat. § 609.505, subd. 2, criminalizes defamation, a category of speech not protected by the First Amendment.

3. Because Crawley was convicted under section 609.505, subdivision 2, before our narrowing construction of the statute, due process considerations entitle her to a new trial.

4. Minnesota Statutes § 609.505, subd. 2, falls within two of the exceptions to the constitutional prohibition against content discrimination set forth in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 112 S.Ct. 2538, 120 L.Ed.2d 305 (1992).

5. Under our narrowing construction, Minn.Stat. § 609.505, subd. 2, is constitutional.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, MN; and Karin L. Sonneman, Winona County Attorney, Stephanie E. Nuttall, Assistant Winona County Attorney, Winona, MN, for appellant.

John M. Stuart, Minnesota State Public Defender, St. Paul, MN; and Scott M. Flaherty, Briggs and Morgan, P.A., Minneapolis, MN, for respondent.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, John S. Garry, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, MN, for amicus curiae Minnesota Attorney General.

Cort C. Holten, Jeffrey D. Bores, Chestnut Cambronne PA, Minneapolis, MN, for amicus curiae Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.

Teresa Nelson, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN; and Sarah Riskin, Nadege J. Souvenir, Rachel Bowe, Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand, LLP, Minneapolis, MN, for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union.

OPINION

ANDERSON, G. BARRY, Justice.

The question presented here is whether a Minnesota statute that prohibits knowingly false reports of police misconduct violates the First Amendment because it allows the State to punish some people, but not others, depending on the viewpoint expressed about the police. A jury found Melissa Jean Crawley guilty of violating the challenged law, Minn.Stat. § 609.505, subd. 2 (2010), based on the fact that she informed a police officer that another officer forged her signature, knowing that the information conveyed was false. The court of appeals reversed her conviction after concluding that section 609.505, subdivision 2, is unconstitutional because it criminalizes false speech " critical" of the police but not false speech that favors the police. State v. Crawley, 789 N.W.2d 899, 910 (Minn.App.2010). Because we narrowly construe section 609.505, subdivision 2, to criminalize only defamatory speech not protected by the First Amendment, and because the statute falls within two of the exceptions to the constitutional prohibition against content discrimination in an unprotected

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category of speech, we reverse the court of appeals' judgment that the statute is unconstitutional. Because Crawley's conviction under section 609.505, subdivision 2, preceded our narrow construction of the statute, due process considerations entitle her to a new trial. We therefore reverse her conviction and remand for a new trial based on our narrowing construction of the statute.

On April 17, 2008, Melissa Jean Crawley went to the Winona County Law Enforcement Center, met with Winona Police Department Sergeant Christopher Nelson, and informed Nelson that a police officer had forged her signature on a medical release form at a Winona hospital. Nelson asked Crawley who she thought had forged her signature. Crawley noted that the form was signed " Melissa Crawley at 0600 hours," and informed Nelson that " it has to be a police officer that did that. I don't sign things and date them 0600 hours." The release related to treatment Crawley received at the hospital for injuries sustained in an assault that Winona police were investigating, and Crawley informed Nelson she thought her signature was forged by " the police officer who requested the records, whoever was doing the investigation."

Nelson investigated Crawley's report. During his investigation, Nelson spoke to a nurse who told Nelson that she saw Crawley sign the release while Crawley was at the hospital. The State charged Crawley on April 30, 2008, with falsely reporting an act of police misconduct, Minn.Stat. § 609.505, subd. 2(a)(2), and falsely reporting a crime, Minn.Stat. § 609.505, subd. 1 (2010). 1 Subdivision 2, the statutory provision at issue in this appeal, provides:

(a) Whoever informs, or causes information to be communicated to, a peace officer, whose responsibilities include investigating or reporting police misconduct, that a peace officer, as defined in section 626.84, subdivision 1, paragraph (c), has committed an act of police misconduct, knowing that the information is false, is guilty of a crime and may be sentenced as follows:

(1) up to the maximum provided for a misdemeanor if the false information does not allege a criminal act; or

(2) up to the maximum provided for a gross misdemeanor if the false information alleges a criminal act.

(b) The court shall order any person convicted of a violation of this subdivision to make full restitution of all reasonable expenses incurred in the investigation of the false allegation unless the court makes a specific written finding that restitution would be inappropriate under the circumstances. A restitution award may not exceed $3,000.

Crawley moved to dismiss the charge under subdivision 2(a)(2). In her motion to dismiss, Crawley relied wholly on Chaker v. Crogan, 428 F.3d 1215 (9th Cir.2005). In Chaker, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that a California statute, Cal. Penal. Code § 148.6, criminalizing knowingly false reports of police misconduct violated the First Amendment for targeting " only knowingly false speech critical of peace officer conduct during the course of a complaint

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investigation," but not " [k]nowingly false speech supportive of peace officer conduct." 428 F.3d at 1228. The Winona County District Court denied the motion to dismiss and, after a trial, a jury found Crawley guilty of both counts. The district court concluded subdivision 1 was a lesser included offense of subdivision 2(a)(2), convicted Crawley of subdivision 2(a)(2), and sentenced her to 15 days in jail.

Crawley appealed her conviction to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. In a divided decision, the court of appeals reversed Crawley's conviction and remanded the case for sentencing on the subdivision 1 verdict. Crawley, 789 N.W.2d at 910. The majority of the court categorized the speech at issue as an " intentional lie" that was not protected by the First Amendment. Id. at 903 (emphasis omitted). The majority stated that " even though intentional falsehoods are subject to regulation, the government cannot pick and choose which falsehoods to prohibit so as to criminalize certain false statements but not others based on the content of the speech or viewpoint of the speaker." Id. at 904. The majority concluded that subdivision 2 violates the First Amendment because it criminalizes " false critical information" but not " false exonerating information," contrary to the prohibition on viewpoint discrimination announced in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 395, 112 S.Ct. 2538, 120 L.Ed.2d 305 (1992). Crawley, 789 N.W.2d at 910. The court of appeals dissent, on the other hand, concluded that the statute targeted speech within the unprotected category of defamation, not simple " lies." Id. (Harten, J., dissenting) (emphasis omitted). The dissent reasoned that, when viewed as a regulation of defamation, section 609.505, subdivision 2, comes within the exceptions to the R.A.V. prohibition on content discrimination. Crawley, 789 N.W.2d at 911-12 (Harten J., dissenting). The State sought further review,2 which we granted. 3

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We begin by noting certain principles of First Amendment law that will frame our discussion of this case. Content-based restrictions of speech 4 are presumptively invalid, R.A.V., 505 U.S. at 382, 112 S.Ct. 2538, and ordinarily subject to strict scrutiny, United States v. Playboy Entm't Grp., Inc., 529 U.S. 803, 813, 120 S.Ct. 1878, 146 L.Ed.2d 865 (2000). But the Supreme Court " ha[s] long recognized that the government may regulate certain categories of expression consistent with the Constitution." Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343, 358, 123 S.Ct. 1536, 155 L.Ed.2d 535 (2003). As explained recently by the Supreme Court in United States v. Stevens:

From 1791 to the present, ... the First Amendment has permitted restrictions upon the content of speech in a few limited areas, and has never included a freedom to disregard these traditional limitations. These historic and traditional categories long familiar to the bar ... include[d] obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, and speech integral to criminal conduct....

--- U.S. __, 130 S.Ct. 1577, 1584, 176 L.Ed.2d 435 (2010) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). Categories of speech such as obscenity and defamation that may be restricted without violating the First Amendment are often called " unprotected speech," R.A.V., 505 U.S. at 406, 112 S.Ct. 2538, and can, " consistently with the First Amendment, be regulated because of their constitutionally proscribable content." Id. at 383, 112 S.Ct. 2538 (emphasis omitted). But these unprotected categories of speech are not " entirely invisible to the Constitution, so that they may be made the vehicles for content...

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