922 P.2d 1159 (Mont. 1996), 95-333, State v. Helfrich

Docket Nº:95-333.
Citation:922 P.2d 1159, 277 Mont. 452
Opinion Judge:[8] JUSTICE LEAPHART DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.
Party Name:STATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Richard HELFRICH, Defendant and Appellant.
Attorney:[7] For Appellant: Edmund F. Sheehy, Jr.; Cannon & Sheehy, Helena (argued). For Respondent: Hon. Joseph P. Mazurek, Attorney General, Carol Schmidt, Ass't Attorney General, (argued) Helena; Brad Newman, Deputy Silver Bow County Attorney, Butte.
Case Date:August 09, 1996
Court:Supreme Court of Montana
 
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922 P.2d 1159 (Mont. 1996)

277 Mont. 452

STATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Respondent,

v.

Richard HELFRICH, Defendant and Appellant.

No. 95-333.

Supreme Court of Montana.

August 9, 1996

Submitted May 16, 1996.

Heard May 2, 1996.

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Second Judicial District, In and for the County of Silver Bow, The Honorable James Purcell, Judge presiding.

[277 Mont. 453] Edmund F. Sheehy, Jr.; Cannon & Sheehy, Helena (argued), for Appellant.

Joseph P. Mazurek, Attorney General, Carol Schmidt, Asst. Attorney General (argued), Helena, Brad Newman, Deputy Silver Bow County Attorney, Butte, for Respondent.

LEAPHART, Justice.

Richard Helfrich (Helfrich) appeals from the judgment entered by the Second Judicial District Court, Silver Bow County, accepting Helfrich's conditional guilty pleas to the misdemeanor offenses of criminal defamation and stalking. Pursuant to § 46-12-204(3), MCA, Helfrich reserved the right to appeal from the District Court's order denying his

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motion to dismiss the charges. We reverse and remand.

The following issues are raised on appeal:

1. Is § 45-8-212, MCA, which defines the offense of criminal defamation, unconstitutionally overbroad?

2. Did the District Court err in denying Helfrich's motion to dismiss the charge of stalking?

On or about May 30 or May 31, 1994, Helfrich distributed fliers in various locations in Silver Bow County, Montana. The fliers alleged that a named individual had engaged in criminal conduct. Based on Helfrich's distribution of the fliers, the Silver Bow Deputy County Attorney filed two complaints in Justice Court, the first alleging that Helfrich committed the offense of criminal defamation in violation of [277 Mont. 454] § 45-8-212(2), MCA, and the second alleging that Helfrich committed the offense of misdemeanor stalking in violation of § 45-5-220(1)(b), MCA. A bench trial was held in Justice Court and the court found Helfrich guilty of both offenses.

Helfrich appealed his convictions to the District Court and filed a motion to dismiss the charges of defamation and stalking on the grounds that the criminal defamation statute is unconstitutional and that his actions did not constitute stalking within the meaning of the stalking statute. The District Court denied the motion to dismiss and Helfrich entered conditional guilty pleas reserving his right to appeal. This appeal followed.

  1. Is § 45-8-212, MCA, which defines the offense of criminal defamation, unconstitutionally overbroad?

    In reviewing the constitutionality of a statute enacted by the legislature, this Court presumes that the statute is constitutional. State v. Lilburn (1994), 265 Mont. 258, 266, 875 P.2d 1036, 1041, cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1078, 115 S.Ct. 726, 130 L.Ed.2d 630 (1995) (citing Montana Auto. Ass'n v. Greely (1981), 193 Mont. 378, 382, 632 P.2d 300, 303). The reviewing Court must adopt a construction of the statute which renders the statute constitutional in preference to one which renders it invalid. Monroe v. State (1994), 265 Mont. 1, 3, 873 P.2d 230, 231. The party challenging the constitutionality of the statute carries the burden of proof. Monroe, 873 P.2d at 231; GBN, Inc. v. Montana Dep't of Revenue (1991), 249 Mont. 261, 265, 815 P.2d 595, 597.

    In reviewing statutes which have been challenged under the doctrine of overbreadth, this Court has stated that:

    "[A]n individual whose own speech or expressive conduct may validly be prohibited or sanctioned is permitted to challenge a statute on its face because it also threatens others not before the court--those who desire to engage in legally protected expression but who may refrain from doing so rather than risk prosecution or undertake to have the law declared partially invalid." Brockett v. Spokane Arcades, Inc. (1985), U.S.,, 105 S.Ct. 2794, 2802, 86 L.Ed.2d 394, 405-406. Thus, the statute may be unconstitutional on its face even though it would be constitutional as applied to appellant.

    State v. Lance (1986), 222 Mont. 92, 99, 721 P.2d 1258, 1263. The statute at issue, § 45-8-212, MCA, provides:

    (1) Defamatory matter is anything which exposes a person or a group, class, or association to hatred, contempt, ridicule, degradation,[277 Mont. 455] or disgrace in society or injury to his or its business or occupation.

    (2) Whoever, with knowledge of its defamatory character, orally, in writing, or by any other means communicates any defamatory matter to a third person without the consent of the person defamed commits the offense of criminal defamation and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 6 months in the county jail or a fine of not more than $500, or both.

    (3) Violation of subsection (2) is justified if:

    (a) the defamatory matter is true and is communicated with good motives and for justifiable ends;

    (b) the communication is absolutely privileged;

    (c) the communication consists of fair comment made in good faith with respect

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    to persons participating in matters of public concern;

    (d) the communication consists of a fair and true...

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