Law on Seditious Libel in Pennsylvania
Sedition and Seditious libel are criminal offenses in the United States of America. Pennsylvania is a state in the US has place sedition as a criminal offense also. Sedition is termed as a speech against a country or an established order or government, encouraging people to actively rebel and refuse to obey the rules and regulations of the land. A libel is the written or printed form of sedition.
A seditious speech is usually directed with the intent to take up arms to overthrow a particular government or a government leader.
Seditious libel also amounts to defamation. To a considerable extent, the US constitution protects individuals or entities that defame. The law allows defamation if malice is not involved in the process. Most victims of defamation are not successful in claiming damages in a court of law because the malice requirement in the laws are too vague and ambiguous and thus any verdict that comes in favor of a victim can be reversed on appeal.
Libel laws of the state of Pennsylvania as well as of the United States have brought about a wide range of modifications in the last two decades which has resulted in very expensive litigation costs. This has affected a curb in free speech. In totality, the law of libel affects the media, the victims of defamation and the public in different adverse forms.
Elements that Control the Constitutional Law of Defamation:
- Actual Malice: A victim of defamation is effectively prohibited from recovering damages if he or she cannot prove beyond doubt that the defamation carried intended malice. Malice in this instance is explained as when a statement is published knowing very well that it is false or when it was published with a total disregard of verifying the facts first. The malice element is very difficult to prove as the court would need proper evidence of the same which almost always is not available.
- Convincing Clarity: The Convincing Clarity element goes on to state that the actual malice supposedly intimated by the victim should have a convincing clarity to it. Thus the prerogative lies with the judge rather than the jury to find if the intention to malign the victim had convincing clarity.
- Independent review: The law in Pennsylvania states that jury decisions can be revoked and set aside by judges. Simply put, the presiding judge has the power to ignore the decision arrived at by the jury and set up an independent review which allows the judge to come to a decision on the plaintiff by himself.
- Summary judgment: In sedition libel cases, Pennsylvania courts have in ways undermined the decision of the jury in yet another way by instructing judges to grant the defendants motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment is described as a judgment declared by a court in favor of one party against another party without taking into consideration the merits and demerits of the entire case but by rather taking the summary of the whole trial.
- Public Figure: Almost all of the seditious libel suits are filed by public officials. The plaintiff must be individuals holding public office which may include people starting from the top of the governmental hierarchy to the very least. They must have a significant function in the government and the conduct of governmental affairs. However lately any plaintiff can file a libel suit irrespective of if he or she is a public government official or not.
- Private Plaintiff: Private plaintiffs are those who are not public officials or have public responsibilities to adhere to. Private plaintiffs do not need to pass the actual malice test. A certain degree of negligence is the only qualification required to file a case. However, if they demand punitive damages or demand something more than the compensation stated, in such cases actual malice needs to be proved in clarity.