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

Seditious libel refers to the act of publicly opposing the government by criticizing, questioning or embarrassing the government, governmental policies or its officials.

Actions including writing and giving speeches that advocate bringing down a constitutionally-formed government through unlawful means such as the use of violence or force; or writings and speeches that urge people to overthrow a government unlawfully, constitute seditious libel. In addition to speeches and writings, signs or any other form of communication can also amount to seditious libel.

Seditious libel is a crime in West Virginia and is punishable by imprisonment, fine or both. Punishment varies depending on whether or not the offender is committing the crime for the first time or has a history of conviction for seditious libel.

Let us take a closer look at what the law says about the crime of Seditious Libel in West Virginia.

West Virginia Seditious Libel Laws

Engaging in Unlawful Communication

According to section 61-1-5 (Chapter 61, Article 1) of the West Virginia Code, an individual violates the law if the individual commits the following:

  • Engages in communication including printing, speaking or publishing, using language, signs, pictures or any other form of expression, of doctrines, teachings, or advisory that:

o Supports or favors ideologies, institutional bodies, or governments or forms of it, that are hostile to, or are extremely opposing of anyone existing in the present, or in the future, in accordance to the Constitution, and the legal system of this State or of the American nation;

o Supports or favors the rightness, necessity, or the dutifulness, of using unlawful and forceful acts including terrorism, crime, and violence, as a means to achieve reform of an economic or political nature;

o Supports or favors the acts of overthrowing an organized society, destruction of property that is unlawful in nature, and violation of laws.

Penalty for Engaging in Unlawful Communication

According to section 61-1-7 (Chapter 61, Title 1) of the West Virginia Code, an individual guilty of engaging in speech, publication, or other forms of communication that are unlawful under sections 61-1-5:

  • Upon conviction, is guilty of committing a misdemeanor provided the said crime is the first offense of violation of the section mentioned. The individual is punishable by a fine of an amount between $100 and $500.

In some cases, the individual may be jailed for a term, not more than 12 months instead of being punished with a fine. Sometimes, the individual may be both fined and jailed. The sentence is in the discretion of the court.

  • Upon conviction, is guilty of committing a felony in case the offense is the second offense of violation of the above section. The individual is punishable by imprisonment for a term between 1 and 5 years. The guilty will be incarcerated in a state correctional facility.
Seditious Libel Laws West Virginia

Statute of Limitations Applicable to a Crime of Seditious Libel in West Virginia

Statute of Limitations is the time limit within which formal charges against an individual accused of violating the above section need to be initiated. The purpose of such time limit is to ensure that proceedings against the crime are initiated within a set time while the evidence for the crime is recent and not impaired, and hence clear and impactful.

The Statute of Limitations for the felony is nil in West Virginia, meaning there is no time limit on commencing such trials. Therefore, an individual who commits a felony by violating section 61-1-5 more than once can be legally tried anytime.

An individual charged with committing a misdemeanor for violating sections 61-1-5 faces charges till 1 year after the commission of the crime.

Proceedings against the accused are considered to have begun if the following happens:

  • Filing of a complaint or information; or
  • An indictment of the individual by a grand jury; and
  • Issuance of a warrant.

The Statute of Limitations stops running under the following conditions:

  • The indictment gets destroyed, lost, or stolen or
  • The suspect is not in the State; or
  • The suspect is on the run to avoid prosecution.

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