MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The conviction of a man who admitted posting sexually-explicit ads online was overturned.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals found the criminal defamation statute used to find him guilty is unconstitutional.

Essentially, the law that makes it illegal to defame someone is too broad. Minnesota’s defamation statute was found to be in violation of the First Amendment.

Leita Walker is a First Amendment attorney not connected to the case.

“This is a great decision for free speech in Minnesota,” Walker said.

The appeals court ruling stemmed from a case involving Timothy Turner, who was convicted of criminal defamation.

He admitted posting ads on Craigslist seeking sex from men, pretending to be his ex-girlfriend and her under-age daughter.

In return, the two received what the Isanti County attorney called horrifically graphic texts and pictures from men.

The appeals court’s decision reversed his conviction. Walker says the facts were set aside during the ruling.

“They looked at just the plain terms of the statute and what it could restrict in a given case and said it could restrict speech that is true or it could punish speech that is true and therefore it’s overbroad,” Walker said.

Turner’s attorney, John Arechigo of Arechigo and Stokka, said they fought to protect freedom of speech.

“We feel the Court reached the right conclusion,” Arechigo said. “As the court noted, Mr. Turner’s conduct was reprehensible, but this does not mean he can be punished under an unconstitutional statute.”

Walker calls Minnesota’s law outdated. It was written in the 1960s, long before social media and online profiles and postings came into the picture.

“There’s been really a sea change in libel law and defamation law since this statute was enacted, so it really just hasn’t kept up with the times,” Walker said.

The Court of Appeals said it would be up to the legislature to get a new statute on the books.

A bill was introduced this session to modify the crime of defamation and make this type of behavior a felony. The bill did not pass.

Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad hopes with the statute now being deemed unconstitutional and the upcoming special session, the legislature will act swiftly on the bill to protect victims from this type of harassment.

Jennifer Mayerle