Positive News for Felons on Probation or Parole: Exercising a Right to Free Speech is not a Probation Violation

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which oversees federal courts in California and much of the west coast, ruled that a convict who was out of prison on a supervised release program did not violate the terms of his release when he commented on a blogpost that a police investigator “was forced out of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department”. The terms of his release, which the Court reviewed in the case Chaker v. United States, prohibited him from making any comments that disparaged or defamed others on the internet. His supervised release was revoked after he posted his comments about the police investigator. This case has important implications for parolees and probationers who are charged with probation violations when they attempt to exercise their First Amendment rights.

In determining that he had not violated the terms of his release, the Court of Appeals noted that the parolee made his post without any malice and with no intent to harass or defame the individual mentioned in the blogpost. The Court’s decision affirms the rights of parolees and probationers to participate in political speech under the same conditions that apply to the greater population. That is, comments about public officials are subject to the highest level of scrutiny before they can be deemed to be defamatory.

This opinion does not give parolees or probationers an absolute free rein to criticize and demean public officials. Their comments and observations remain subject to the same limited restrictions that everyone else must follow, i.e., those comments cannot be made with actual malice and an intent to cause actual harm to the person to whom or about whom they are directed. Free speech advocates are cheering this opinion because it protects the First Amendment rights of everyone, including parolees and probationers, and demonstrated the proper application of defamation standards for political speech directed at public officials.

The attorneys at the Anderson Law Firm, PLLC, focus their efforts on protecting the Constitutional and other rights of persons accused of crimes. Please contact us to schedule a consultation on how we can help to protect your individual rights.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please contact attorney Kirk Anderson for an initial consultation.