DENVER (AP) — A proposal to eliminate Colorado’s little-used criminal libel law is sailing through the Legislature.

A House committee approved the bill Thursday and sent it to a full vote in the chamber. The bill already passed the Senate unanimously.

Libel is typically addressed as a civil matter and few states still have criminal libel laws. The punishment for the criminal libel can lead to prison time and lawmakers who want to repeal the law say it can stifle free speech.

The law has been used seven times in Colorado in the last two years. But in some cases, the original charge is changed to something else, like harassment.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (3)
  1. Asodeska says:

    Libel is free speech?
    Only a Democrat would believe that one.

  2. Geo. says:

    This is how it works. Under the present system, you can be libeled, for example, like some of the stories that the “Enquirer” writes. If this happens to you, you can only fight it in civil courts if you have massive amounts of cash for lawyers. I believe there have been several famous entertainers who won judgements in this manner. If you’re not extremely rich, basically it’s impossible to fight libel, especially when it’s been perpetrated by a large newspaper, magazine, or news outlet. They have the lawyers and financial resources to discourage most people from doing so, and historically most people aren’t successful in civil court when they sue for libel, especially against the press. I don’t know if criminal libel laws would stifle free speech, but it might inspire some in the field of journalism to adopt higher standards with the way they do business.

  3. medialawguy says:

    It is incorrect to say that you cannot civilly sue for libel unless you are “extremely rich” and have “massive amounts of cash for lawyers” as virtually all libel cases are taken on a contignency fee basis where the lawyer is paid only if there is a recovery. The only out of pocket expense to the libel plaintiff is the modest court filing fee. Other costs are usually advanced by the lawyer. That being said, the overwhelming majority of libel cases never make it to trial and are dismissed on motion because the First Amendment approriately places a high burden on a libel plaintiff. The thought that criminalizing libel will force journalists to adopt higher standards is unrealistic because the potential threat, in reality, is feckless. Prosecutors are very reluctant to prosecute someone for what they say, particularly when the claimed harm is to an individual and not society as a whole. Consequently, criminal libel prosecutions are rare and successful prosecutions are even more rare. The First Amendment is designed to protect robust speech and persons should not face the prospect of going to jail because of what they say. That is a mark of totalitarian regimes who will not tolerate any dissent. The problem with a lack of perceived journalistic standards will have to be addressed some other way.

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