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What is the Law on Seditious libel in Texas and What are the Punishments for it?

While many states in the U.S. follow defamation laws for the commitment of civil wrong, Texas defamation laws consider defamation only when someone’s reputation is damaged or character is defamed. Chapter 557 and 73 of the Texas Government Code govern the premises of labeling an offense as seditious and libel respectively.

Chapter 557 and Chapter 73

When can one be said to have committed seditious libel in Texas? Both Chapter 557 and 73 have a clear outline of elements because of which an activity can be considered a crime. When is one considered for trial under these chapters? Let’s try and answer this question.

According to Chapter 557, an offense is considered to be seditious when it attempts to overthrow or destroy the state government. A person can be held accused even in case of attempting such conspiracy jointly with an organization or under circumstances dangerous for the state security.

Texas Seditious Libel Laws

According to Chapter 73, a plaintiff must be able to show the publication of a statement in order to be able to file a defamation lawsuit. That statement should concern and bear malice towards the plaintiff. However, a plaintiff will not be asked to prove harm in case of being accused of committing a crime, possessing a disease, engaging in sexual misconduct, and having business or profession injured. To evaluate the defamatory conduct, Texas employs innuendo. During this process, an average reasonable person or the general public is asked to interpret the statement.

Punishment for Seditious Libel in Texas

An offense under the sections mentioned in Chapter 557 will be considered as a felony. The accused may observe imposition of a fine not exceeding $20,000 or prison term up to 20 years or both. The convict will not be able to be employed either with the state or its political subdivisions. In addition, the accused may not be eligible to receive community supervision as mentioned in Chapter 42A.

An organization, if found guilty of seditious activities, will neither be entitled to organization privileges nor can continue to lawfully exist. Besides having its business permit revoked, the organization will be dissolved as well. The books and records of that organization will have to be submitted to the Attorney General. In addition, the state will forfeit all funds and records of the organization.

Punishments for Seditious Libel in Texas

Criminal libel statues came to an end with the 1964 Supreme Court verdict on the case Garrison v. Louisiana. Governor Perry adopted the Retraction Statute in 2013. It followed the 1993 Clarification of Defamation Act proposed by the Uniform Law Commission. This Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code amendment proposed a removal of the malice material upon request of the plaintiff within 90 days of the first publication. Upon agreeing to the request, the defendant must retract such materials in a manner similar to the previous one. The defendant should make the correction within 30 days of receiving the request. In the case of failing to do so, the plaintiff has the right to sue the defendant. This is applicable for all statements published on or after June 14, 2013.

Seditious Libel Exemptions

According to the law, there are certain scenarios in which one can be subject to the exemption. One such instance is ‘fair comment’ which is derived from accurate facts and doesn’t bear any harmful intention. Statements about public personalities will not be considered as defamatory unless those statements bear the connotation of hatred, harm, or disregard for the truth. Negligible errors including the age of a person or title are subject to an exemption. A Government body can’t be held accused on the ground that it requires a non-personal entity to have the intent of harm or malice.

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