Cyber Bully | Business | Leisure

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Thi s opi ni on i s uncor r ect ed and subj ect t o r evi si on bef or e
publ i cat i on i n t he New Yor k Repor t s.
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No. 139
The Peopl e &c. ,
Respondent ,
v.
Mar quan M. ,
Appel l ant .
_______________________________
Count y of Al bany,
I nt er venor - Respondent .
Cor ey St ought on, f or appel l ant .
Thomas Mar cel l e, f or i nt er venor - r espondent Count y of
Al bany.
Advocat es f or Chi l dr en of New Yor k et al . , ami ci
cur i ae.
GRAFFEO, J . :
Def endant , a 15- year - ol d hi gh school st udent ,
anonymousl y post ed sexual i nf or mat i on about f el l ow cl assmat es on
a publ i cl y- accessi bl e i nt er net websi t e. He was cr i mi nal l y
pr osecut ed f or " cyber bul l yi ng" under a l ocal l aw enact ed by t he
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Al bany Count y Legi sl at ur e. We ar e asked t o deci de whet her t hi s
cyber bul l yi ng st at ut e compor t s wi t h t he Fr ee Speech Cl ause of t he
Fi r st Amendment .
I
Bul l yi ng by chi l dr en i n school s has l ong been a
pr eval ent pr obl embut i t s psychol ogi cal ef f ect s wer e not st udi ed
i n ear nest unt i l t he 1970s ( see Hyoj i n Koo, A Ti me Li ne of t he
Evol ut i on of School Bul l yi ng i n Di f f er i ng Soci al Cont ext s, 8 Asi a
Paci f i c Educ Rev 107 [ 2007] ) . Si nce t hen, " [ b] ul l yi ng among
school - aged yout h" has " i ncr easi ngl y be[ en] r ecogni zed as an
i mpor t ant pr obl emaf f ect i ng wel l - bei ng and soci al f unct i oni ng, "
as wel l as " a pot ent i al l y mor e ser i ous t hr eat t o heal t hy yout h
devel opment " ( Tonj a R. Nansel et al . , Bul l yi ng Behavi or s Among
U. S. Yout h, 285 J our nal of t he AmMed Assn 2094 [ 2001] ) . At i t s
cor e, bul l yi ng r epr esent s an i mbal ance of power bet ween t he
aggr essor and vi ct i mt hat of t en mani f est s i n behavi or s t hat ar e
" ver bal ( e. g. , name- cal l i ng, t hr eat s) , physi cal ( e. g. , hi t t i ng) ,
or psychol ogi cal ( e. g. , r umor s, shunni ng/ excl usi on) " ( i d. at
2094; see Koo, supr a at 112) . Based on t he r ecogni zed har mf ul
ef f ect s of bul l yi ng, many school s and communi t i es now sponsor
ant i - bul l yi ng campai gns i n or der t o r educe i nci dent s of such
damagi ng behavi or s.
Educat or s and l egi sl at or s acr oss t he nat i on have
endeavor ed t o cr af t pol i ci es desi gned t o count er t he adver se
i mpact of bul l yi ng on chi l dr en. New Yor k, f or exampl e, enact ed
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t he " Di gni t y f or Al l St udent s Act " i n 2010 ( see L 2010, ch 482,
§ 2; Educat i on Law §§ 10 et seq. ) , decl ar i ng t hat our St at e must
" af f or d al l st udent s i n publ i c school s an envi r onment f r ee of
di scr i mi nat i on and har assment " caused by " bul l yi ng, t aunt i ng or
i nt i mi dat i on" ( Educat i on Law § 10) . I n f ur t her ance of t hi s
obj ect i ve, t he St at e pr ohi bi t ed di scr i mi nat i on and bul l yi ng on
publ i c school pr oper t y or at school f unct i ons ( see Educat i on Law
§ 12 [ 1] ) . The Act r el i ed on t he cr eat i on and i mpl ement at i on of
school boar d pol i ci es t o r educe bul l yi ng i n school s t hr ough t he
appr opr i at e t r ai ni ng of per sonnel , mandat or y i nst r uct i on f or
st udent s on ci vi l i t y and t ol er ance, and r epor t i ng r equi r ement s
( see Educat i on Law § 13) . The Act di d not cr i mi nal i ze bul l yi ng
behavi or s; i nst ead, i t i ncor por at ed educat i onal penal t i es such as
suspensi on f r omschool .
Despi t e t hese ef f or t s, t he pr obl emof bul l yi ng
cont i nues, and has been exacer bat ed by t echnol ogi cal i nnovat i ons
and t he wi despr ead di ssemi nat i on of el ect r oni c i nf or mat i on usi ng
soci al medi a si t es. The advent of t he i nt er net wi t h " t went y- f our
hour connect i vi t y and soci al net wor ki ng" means t hat " [ b] ul l yi ng
t hat begi ns i n school f ol l ows st udent s home ever y day" and
" bul l yi ng t hr ough t he use of t echnol ogy can begi n away f r om
school pr oper t y" ( L 2012, ch 102, § 1) . Regar dl ess of how or
wher e bul l yi ng occur s, i t " af f ect s t he school envi r onment and
di sr upt s t he educat i onal pr ocess, i mpedi ng t he abi l i t y of
st udent s t o l ear n and t oo of t en causi ng devast at i ng ef f ect s on
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st udent s' heal t h and wel l - bei ng" ( i d. ; see e. g. Amer i can
Psychi at r i c Assn, Resol ut i on on Bul l yi ng Among Chi l dr en & Yout h
[ 2004] ) . The use of comput er s and el ect r oni c devi ces t o engage
i n t hi s per ni ci ous behavi or i s commonl y r ef er r ed t o as
" cyber bul l yi ng" ( see e. g. Educat i on Law § 11 [ 8] ; L 2012, ch 102,
§ 1; Si mone Rober s et al . , I ndi cat or s of School Cr i me & Saf et y:
2012, at 44, Nat l Ct r f or Educ St at i st i cs, U. S. Dept s of Educ &
J ust i ce [ 2013] ) . Unl i ke t r adi t i onal bul l yi ng, vi ct i ms of
cyber bul l yi ng can be " r el ent l essl y and anonymousl y at t ack[ ed]
t went y- f our hour s a day f or t he whol e wor l d t o wi t ness. Ther e i s
si mpl y no escape" .
1

The Di gni t y f or Al l St udent s Act di d not or i gi nal l y
appear t o encompass cyber bul l yi ng, par t i cul ar l y act s of bul l yi ng
t hat occur of f school pr emi ses. As t he r ami f i cat i ons of
cyber bul l yi ng on soci al net wor ki ng si t es spi l l ed i nt o t he
educat i onal envi r onment , i n 2012, t he St at e Legi sl at ur e amended
t he Act t o expand t he t ypes of pr ohi bi t ed bul l yi ng conduct
cover ed by i t s pr ovi si ons. I t added a pr oscr i pt i on on bul l yi ng
t hat appl i ed t o " any f or mof el ect r oni c communi cat i on" ( Educat i on
Law § 11 [ 8] ) , i ncl udi ng any of f - campus act i vi t i es t hat
" f or eseeabl y cr eat e a r i sk of subst ant i al di sr upt i on wi t hi n t he
school envi r onment , wher e i t i s f or eseeabl e t hat t he conduct ,
t hr eat s, i nt i mi dat i on or abuse mi ght r each school pr oper t y"
1
Naomi Har l i n Goodno, How Publ i c School s Can
Const i t ut i onal l y Hal t Cyber bul l yi ng, 46 Wake For est L Rev 641,
641 ( 2011) .
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( Educat i on Law § 11 [ 7] ) .
Bef or e t he addi t i on of t he 2012 amendment s t o t he
Di gni t y f or Al l St udent s Act , el ect ed of f i ci al s i n Al bany Count y
deci ded t o t ackl e t he pr obl emof cyber bul l yi ng. They det er mi ned
t her e was a need t o cr i mi nal i ze such conduct because t he " St at e
Legi sl at ur e ha[ d] f ai l ed t o addr ess t h[ e] pr obl em" of " non-
physi cal bul l yi ng behavi or s t r ansmi t t ed by el ect r oni c means"
( Al bany Count y Local Law No. 11 of 2010, § 1) . I n 2010, t he
Al bany Count y Legi sl at ur e adopt ed a new cr i me - - t he of f ense of
cyber bul l yi ng - - whi ch was def i ned as
" any act of communi cat i ng or causi ng a
communi cat i on t o be sent by mechani cal or
el ect r oni c means, i ncl udi ng post i ng
st at ement s on t he i nt er net or t hr ough a
comput er or emai l net wor k, di ssemi nat i ng
embar r assi ng or sexual l y expl i ci t
phot ogr aphs; di ssemi nat i ng pr i vat e, per sonal ,
f al se or sexual i nf or mat i on, or sendi ng hat e
mai l , wi t h no l egi t i mat e pr i vat e, per sonal ,
or publ i c pur pose, wi t h t he i nt ent t o har ass,
annoy, t hr eat en, abuse, t aunt , i nt i mi dat e,
t or ment , humi l i at e, or ot her wi se i nf l i ct
si gni f i cant emot i onal har mon anot her per son"
( i d. § 2)
The pr ovi si on out l awed cyber bul l yi ng agai nst " any mi nor or
per son" si t uat ed i n t he count y ( i d. § 3) .
2
Knowi ngl y engagi ng i n
t hi s act i vi t y was deemed t o be a mi sdemeanor of f ense puni shabl e
by up t o one year i n j ai l and a $1, 000 f i ne ( see i d. § 4) . The
2
The t er m" per son" was br oadl y def i ned t o i ncl ude " any
nat ur al per son, i ndi vi dual , cor por at i on, uni ncor por at ed
associ at i on, pr opr i et or shi p, f i r m, par t ner shi p, j oi nt vent ur e,
j oi nt - st ock associ at i on, or ot her ent i t y or busi ness or gani zat i on
of any ki nd" ( Al bany Count y Local Law No. 11 of 2010, § 2) .
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st at ut e, whi ch i ncl uded a sever abi l i t y cl ause ( see i d. § 7) ,
became ef f ect i ve i n November 2010.
I I
A mont h l at er , def endant Mar quan M. , a st udent
at t endi ng Cohoes Hi gh School i n Al bany Count y, used t he soci al
net wor ki ng websi t e " Facebook" t o cr eat e a page bear i ng t he
pseudonym" Cohoes Fl ame. " He anonymousl y post ed phot ogr aphs of
hi gh- school cl assmat es and ot her adol escent s, wi t h det ai l ed
descr i pt i ons of t hei r al l eged sexual pr act i ces and pr edi l ect i ons,
sexual par t ner s and ot her t ypes of per sonal i nf or mat i on. The
descr i pt i ve capt i ons, whi ch wer e vul gar and of f ensi ve, pr ompt ed
r esponsi ve el ect r oni c messages t hat t hr eat ened t he cr eat or of t he
websi t e wi t h physi cal har m.
A pol i ce i nvest i gat i on r eveal ed t hat def endant was t he
aut hor of t he Cohoes Fl ame post i ngs. He admi t t ed hi s i nvol vement
and was char ged wi t h cyber bul l yi ng under Al bany Count y' s l ocal
l aw. Def endant moved t o di smi ss, ar gui ng t hat t he st at ut e
vi ol at ed hi s r i ght t o f r ee speech under t he Fi r st Amendment .
Af t er Ci t y Cour t deni ed def endant ' s mot i on, he pl eaded gui l t y t o
one count of cyber bul l yi ng but r eser ved hi s r i ght t o r ai se hi s
const i t ut i onal ar gument s on appeal . Count y Cour t af f i r med,
concl udi ng t hat t he l ocal l aw was const i t ut i onal t o t he ext ent i t
out l awed such act i vi t i es di r ect ed at mi nor s, and hel d t hat t he
appl i cat i on of t he pr ovi si on t o def endant ' s Facebook post s di d
not cont r avene hi s Fi r st Amendment r i ght s. A J udge of t hi s Cour t
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gr ant ed def endant l eave t o appeal ( 21 NY3d 1043 [ 2013] ) .
I I I
Def endant cont ends t hat Al bany Count y' s cyber bul l yi ng
l aw vi ol at es t he Fr ee Speech Cl ause of t he Fi r st Amendment
because i t i s over br oad i n t hat i t i ncl udes a wi de ar r ay of
pr ot ect ed expr essi on, and i s unl awf ul l y vague si nce i t does not
gi ve f ai r not i ce t o t he publ i c of t he pr oscr i bed conduct . The
Count y concedes t hat cer t ai n aspect s of t he cyber bul l yi ng l aw ar e
i nval i d but mai nt ai ns t hat t hose por t i ons ar e sever abl e,
r ender i ng t he r emai nder of t he act const i t ut i onal i f const r ued i n
accor dance wi t h t he l egi sl at i ve pur pose of t he enact ment .
I nt er pr et ed i n t hi s r est r i ct i ve manner , t he Count y asser t s t hat
t he cyber bul l yi ng l aw cover s onl y par t i cul ar t ypes of el ect r oni c
communi cat i ons cont ai ni ng i nf or mat i on of a sexual nat ur e
per t ai ni ng t o mi nor s and onl y i f t he sender i nt ends t o i nf l i ct
emot i onal har mon a chi l d or chi l dr en.
Under t he Fr ee Speech Cl ause of t he Fi r st Amendment ,
t he gover nment gener al l y " has no power t o r est r i ct expr essi on
because of i t s message, i t s i deas, i t s subj ect mat t er , or i t s
cont ent " ( Uni t ed St at es v St evens, 559 US 460, 468 [ 2010]
[ i nt er nal quot at i on mar ks omi t t ed] ) . Consequent l y, i t i s wel l
est abl i shed t hat pr ohi bi t i ons of pur e speech must be l i mi t ed t o
communi cat i ons t hat qual i f y as f i ght i ng wor ds, t r ue t hr eat s,
i nci t ement , obsceni t y, chi l d por nogr aphy, f r aud, def amat i on or
st at ement s i nt egr al t o cr i mi nal conduct ( see Uni t ed St at es v
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Al var ez, __ US __, 132 S Ct 2537, 2544 [ 2012] ; Br own v
Ent er t ai nment Mer chant s Assn. , __ US __, 131 S Ct 2729, 2733
[ 2011] ; Peopl e v Di et ze, 75 NY2d 47, 52 [ 1989] ) . Out si de of such
r ecogni zed cat egor i es, speech i s pr esumpt i vel y pr ot ect ed and
gener al l y cannot be cur t ai l ed by t he gover nment ( see Uni t ed
St at es v Al var ez, 132 S Ct at 2543- 2544; Br own v Ent er t ai nment
Mer chant s Assn. , 131 S Ct at 2734; Uni t ed St at es v St evens, 559
US at 468- 469) .
Yet , t he gover nment unquest i onabl y has a compel l i ng
i nt er est i n pr ot ect i ng chi l dr en f r omhar mf ul publ i cat i ons or
mat er i al s ( see Reno v Amer i can Ci vi l Li ber t i es Uni on, 521 US 844,
875 [ 1997] ; see al so Br own v Ent er t ai nment Mer chant s Assn. , 131
S Ct at 2736; see gener al l y Bet hel School Di st . No. 403 v Fr aser ,
478 US 675, 682 [ 1986] ) . Cyber bul l yi ng i s not concept ual l y
i mmune f r omgover nment r egul at i on, so we may assume, f or t he
pur poses of t hi s case, t hat t he Fi r st Amendment per mi t s t he
pr ohi bi t i on of cyber bul l yi ng di r ect ed at chi l dr en, dependi ng on
how t hat act i vi t y i s def i ned ( see gener al l y Br own v Ent er t ai nment
Mer chant s Assn. , 131 S Ct at 2735- 2736, 2741; cf . Uni t ed St at es v
El oni s, 730 F3d 321 [ 3d Ci r 2013] [ af f i r mi ng convi ct i on pr emi sed
on t hr eat eni ng Facebook post s] , cer t gr ant ed __ US __ [ J une 16,
2014] ) . Our t ask t her ef or e i s t o det er mi ne whet her t he speci f i c
st at ut or y l anguage of t he Al bany Count y l egi sl at i ve enact ment can
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comf or t abl y coexi st wi t h t he r i ght t o f r ee speech.
3
Chal l enges t o st at ut es under t he Fr ee Speech Cl ause ar e
usual l y pr emi sed on t he over br eadt h and vagueness doct r i nes. A
r egul at i on of speech i s over br oad i f const i t ut i onal l y- pr ot ect ed
expr essi on may be " chi l l ed" by t he pr ovi si on because i t f aci al l y
" pr ohi bi t s a r eal and subst ant i al amount of " expr essi on guar ded
by t he Fi r st Amendment ( Peopl e v Bar t on, 8 NY3d 70, 75 [ 2006] ) .
Thi s t ype of f aci al chal l enge, whi ch i s r est r i ct ed t o cases
i mpl i cat i ng t he Fi r st Amendment , r equi r es a cour t t o assess t he
wor di ng of t he st at ut e - - " wi t hout r ef er ence t o t he def endant ' s
conduct " ( Peopl e v St uar t , 100 NY2d 412, 421 [ 2003] ) - - t o deci de
whet her " a subst ant i al number of i t s appl i cat i ons ar e
unconst i t ut i onal , j udged i n r el at i on t o t he st at ut e' s pl ai nl y
l egi t i mat e sweep" ( Uni t ed St at es v St evens, 559 US at 473
[ i nt er nal quot at i on mar ks omi t t ed] ) . A l aw t hat i s over br oad
cannot be val i dl y appl i ed agai nst any i ndi vi dual ( see Peopl e v
St uar t , 100 NY2d at 421, ci t i ng Tr i be, Amer i can Const i t ut i onal
Law § 12- 32, at 1036 [ 2d ed 1988] ) . I n cont r ast , a st at ut e i s
seen by t he cour t s as vague i f " i t f ai l s t o gi ve a ci t i zen
adequat e not i ce of t he nat ur e of pr oscr i bed conduct , and per mi t s
ar bi t r ar y and di scr i mi nat or y enf or cement " ( Peopl e v Shack, 86
NY2d 529, 538 [ 1995] ) . Hence, t he gover nment has t he bur den of
demonst r at i ng t hat a r egul at i on of speech i s const i t ut i onal l y
3
We of f er no opi ni on on whet her cyber bul l yi ng shoul d be a
cr i me or whet her t her e ar e mor e ef f ect i ve means of addr essi ng
t hi s soci et al pr obl emout si de of t he cr i mi nal j ust i ce syst em.
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per mi ssi bl e ( see Uni t ed St at es v Pl ayboy Ent er t ai nment Gr oup, 529
US 803, 816- 817 [ 2000] ; cf . Peopl e v Davi s, 13 NY3d 17, 23
[ 2009] ) .
A Fi r st Amendment anal ysi s begi ns wi t h an exami nat i on
of t he t ext of t he chal l enged l egi sl at i on si nce " i t i s i mpossi bl e
t o det er mi ne whet her a st at ut e r eaches t oo f ar wi t hout f i r st
knowi ng what t he st at ut e cover s" ( Uni t ed St at es v Wi l l i ams, 553
US 285, 293 [ 2008] ) . I n t hi s r egar d, f undament al pr i nci pl es of
st at ut or y i nt er pr et at i on ar e cont r ol l i ng. Chi ef among t hemi s
t he pr ecept t hat " cl ear and unequi vocal st at ut or y l anguage i s
pr esumpt i vel y ent i t l ed t o aut hor i t at i ve ef f ect " ( Peopl e v Suber ,
19 NY3d 247, 252 [ 2012] ; see e. g. Peopl e v Wi l l i ams, 19 NY3d 100,
103 [ 2012] ) .
Based on t he t ext of t he st at ut e at i ssue, i t i s
evi dent t hat Al bany Count y " cr eat e[ d] a cr i mi nal pr ohi bi t i on of
al ar mi ng br eadt h" ( Uni t ed St at es v St evens, 559 US at 474) . The
l anguage of t he l ocal l aw embr aces a wi de ar r ay of appl i cat i ons
t hat pr ohi bi t t ypes of pr ot ect ed speech f ar beyond t he
cyber bul l yi ng of chi l dr en ( see i d. at 473- 474; Peopl e v Bar t on,
8 NY3d at 75) . As wr i t t en, t he Al bany Count y l aw i n i t s br oadest
sense cr i mi nal i zes " any act of communi cat i ng . . . by mechani cal
or el ect r oni c means . . . wi t h no l egi t i mat e . . . per sonal . . .
pur pose, wi t h t he i nt ent t o har ass [ or ] annoy. . . anot her
per son. " On i t s f ace, t he l aw cover s communi cat i ons ai med at
adul t s, and f i ct i t i ous or cor por at e ent i t i es, even t hough t he
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count y l egi sl at ur e j ust i f i ed passage of t he pr ovi si on based on
t he det r i ment al ef f ect s t hat cyber bul l yi ng has on school - aged
chi l dr en. The count y l aw al so l i st s par t i cul ar exampl es of
cover ed communi cat i ons, such as " post i ng st at ement s on t he
i nt er net or t hr ough a comput er or emai l net wor k, di ssemi nat i ng
embar r assi ng or sexual l y expl i ci t phot ogr aphs; di ssemi nat i ng
pr i vat e, per sonal , f al se or sexual i nf or mat i on, or sendi ng hat e
mai l . " But such met hods of expr essi on ar e not l i mi t ed t o
i nst ances of cyber bul l yi ng - - t he l aw i ncl udes ever y concei vabl e
f or mof el ect r oni c communi cat i on, such as t el ephone
conver sat i ons, a hamr adi o t r ansmi ssi on or even a t el egr am. I n
addi t i on, t he pr ovi si on per t ai ns t o el ect r oni c communi cat i ons
t hat ar e meant t o " har ass, annoy . . . t aunt . . . [ or ]
humi l i at e" any per son or ent i t y, not j ust t hose t hat ar e i nt ended
t o " t hr eat en, abuse . . . i nt i mi dat e, t or ment . . . or ot her wi se
i nf l i ct si gni f i cant emot i onal har mon" a chi l d. I n consi der i ng
t he f aci al i mpl i cat i ons, i t appear s t hat t he pr ovi si on woul d
cr i mi nal i ze a br oad spect r umof speech out si de t he popul ar
under st andi ng of cyber bul l yi ng, i ncl udi ng, f or exampl e: an emai l
di scl osi ng pr i vat e i nf or mat i on about a cor por at i on or a t el ephone
conver sat i on meant t o annoy an adul t .
The Count y admi t s t hat t he t ext of t he st at ut e i s t oo
br oad and t hat cer t ai n aspect s of i t s cont ent s encr oach on
r ecogni zed ar eas of pr ot ect ed f r ee speech. Because t he l aw
" i mposes a r est r i ct i on on t he cont ent of pr ot ect ed speech, i t i s
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i nval i d unl ess" t he Count y " can demonst r at e t hat i t passes st r i ct
scr ut i ny - - t hat i s, unl ess i t i s j ust i f i ed by a compel l i ng
gover nment i nt er est and i s nar r owl y dr awn t o ser ve t hat i nt er est "
( Br own v Ent er t ai nment Mer chant s Assn. , 131 S Ct at 2738) . For
t hi s r eason, t he Count y asks us t o sever t he of f endi ng por t i ons
and decl ar e t hat t he r emai nder of t he l aw sur vi ves st r i ct
scr ut i ny. What r emai ns, i n t he Count y' s vi ew, i s a t i ght l y
ci r cumscr i bed cyber bul l yi ng l aw t hat i ncl udes onl y t hr ee t ypes of
el ect r oni c communi cat i ons sent wi t h t he i nt ent t o i nf l i ct
emot i onal har mon a chi l d: ( 1) sexual l y expl i ci t phot ogr aphs;
( 2) pr i vat e or per sonal sexual i nf or mat i on; and ( 3) f al se sexual
i nf or mat i on wi t h no l egi t i mat e publ i c, per sonal or pr i vat e
pur pose.
I t i s t r ue, as t he Count y ur ges, t hat a cour t shoul d
st r i ve t o save a st at ut e when conf r ont ed wi t h a Fr ee Speech
chal l enge ( see e. g. Peopl e ex r el . Al pha Por t l and Cement Co. v
Knapp, 230 NY 48, 62- 63 [ 1920] , cer t deni ed 256 US 702 [ 1921] ) .
But depar t ur e f r oma t ext ual anal ysi s i s appr opr i at e onl y i f t he
st at ut or y l anguage i s " f ai r l y suscept i bl e" t o an i nt er pr et at i on
t hat sat i sf i es appl i cabl e Fi r st Amendment r equi r ement s ( Peopl e v
Di et ze, 75 NY2d at 52; see e. g. Uni t ed St at es v St evens, 559 US
at 481) . The doct r i ne of separ at i on of gover nment al power s
pr event s a cour t f r omr ewr i t i ng a l egi sl at i ve enact ment t hr ough
t he cr eat i ve use of a sever abi l i t y cl ause when t he r esul t i s
i ncompat i bl e wi t h t he l anguage of t he st at ut e ( see e. g. Peopl e v
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- 13 - No. 139
Di et ze, 75 NY2d at 52- 53; Reno v Amer i can Ci vi l Li ber t i es Uni on,
521 US at 884- 885) . And speci al concer ns ar i se i n t he Fi r st
Amendment cont ext - - excessi ve j udi ci al r evi si on of an over br oad
st at ut e may l ead t o vagueness pr obl ems because
" t he st at ut or y l anguage woul d si gni f y one
t hi ng but , as a mat t er of j udi ci al deci si on,
woul d st and f or somet hi ng ent i r el y di f f er ent .
Under t hose ci r cumst ances, per sons of
or di nar y i nt el l i gence r eadi ng [ t he l aw] coul d
not know what i t act ual l y meant " ( Peopl e v
Di et ze, 75 NY2d at 53; see e. g. Ci t y of
Houst on, Texas v Hi l l , 482 US 451, 468- 469
[ 1987] ) .
We concl ude t hat i t i s not a per mi ssi bl e use of
j udi ci al aut hor i t y f or us t o empl oy t he sever ance doct r i ne t o t he
ext ent suggest ed by t he Count y or t he di ssent . I t i s possi bl e t o
sever t he por t i on of t he cyber bul l yi ng l aw t hat appl i es t o adul t s
and ot her ent i t i es because t hi s woul d r equi r e a si mpl e del et i on
of t he phr ase " or per son" f r omt he def i ni t i on of t he of f ense.
But doi ng so woul d not cur e al l of t he l aw' s const i t ut i onal i l l s.
As we have r ecent l y made cl ear , t he Fi r st Amendment pr ot ect s
annoyi ng and embar r assi ng speech ( see e. g. Peopl e v Gol b, __ NY3d
__, 2014 NY Sl i p Op 03426 [ May 13, 2014] ; Peopl e v Di et ze, 75
NY2d at 52- 53) , even i f a chi l d may be exposed t o i t ( see Br own v
Ent er t ai nment Mer chant s Assn. , 131 S Ct at 2736) , so t hose
r ef er ences woul d al so need t o be exci sed f r omt he def i ni t i onal
sect i on. And, t he Fi r st Amendment f or bi ds t he gover nment f r om
deci di ng whet her pr ot ect ed speech qual i f i es as " l egi t i mat e, " as
Al bany Count y has at t empt ed t o do ( see Snyder v Phel ps, __ US __,
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- 14 - No. 139
131 S Ct 1207, 1220 [ 2011] , quot i ng Er znozni k v J acksonvi l l e, 422
US 205, 210- 211 [ 1975] ; cf . Peopl e v Shack, 86 NY2d at 536- 537) .
4

I t i s undi sput ed t hat t he Al bany Count y st at ut e was
mot i vat ed by t he l audabl e publ i c pur pose of shi el di ng chi l dr en
f r omcyber bul l yi ng. The t ext of t he cyber bul l yi ng l aw, however ,
does not adequat el y r ef l ect an i nt ent t o r est r i ct i t s r each t o
t he t hr ee di scr et e t ypes of el ect r oni c bul l yi ng of a sexual
nat ur e desi gned t o cause emot i onal har mt o chi l dr en. Hence, t o
accept t he Count y' s pr oposed i nt er pr et at i on, we woul d need t o
si gni f i cant l y modi f y t he appl i cat i ons of t he count y l aw,
r esul t i ng i n t he amended scope bear i ng l i t t l e r esembl ance t o t he
act ual l anguage of t he l aw. Such a j udi ci al r ewr i t e encr oaches
on t he aut hor i t y of t he l egi sl at i ve body t hat cr af t ed t he
pr ovi si on and ent er s t he r eal mof vagueness because any per son
who r eads i t woul d l ack f ai r not i ce of what i s l egal and what
const i t ut es a cr i me. Even i f t he Fi r st Amendment al l ows a
cyber bul l yi ng st at ut e of t he l i mi t ed nat ur e pr oposed by Al bany
Count y, t he l ocal l aw her e was not dr af t ed i n t hat manner .
Al bany Count y t her ef or e has not met i t s bur den of pr ovi ng t hat
4
Cont r ar y t o t he di ssent ' s posi t i on, Peopl e v Shack ( 86
NY2d 529 [ 1995] ) and Peopl e v St uar t ( 100 NY2d 412 [ 2003] ) ar e
di st i ngui shabl e because t hey addr essed st at ut es t hat cr i mi nal i zed
conduct - - r epeat ed t el ephone har assment and st al ki ng - - wi t hout
r egar d t o t he cont ent of any communi cat i on. Her e, however , t he
Al bany Count y l aw f aci al l y al l ows l aw enf or cement of f i ci al s t o
char ge a cr i me based on t he communi cat i ve message t hat t he
accused i nt ends t o convey, as evi denced by t he f act t hat
def endant was pr osecut ed because of t he of f ensi ve wor ds he wr ot e
on Facebook.
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- 15 - No. 139
t he r est r i ct i ons on speech cont ai ned i n i t s cyber bul l yi ng l aw
sur vi ve st r i ct scr ut i ny.
* * *
Ther e i s undoubt edl y gener al consensus t hat def endant ' s
Facebook communi cat i ons wer e r epul si ve and har mf ul t o t he
subj ect s of hi s r ant s, and pot ent i al l y cr eat ed a r i sk of physi cal
or emot i onal i nj ur y based on t he pr i vat e nat ur e of t he comment s.
He i dent i f i ed speci f i c adol escent s wi t h phot ogr aphs, descr i bed
t hei r pur por t ed sexual pr act i ces and post ed t he i nf or mat i on on a
websi t e accessi bl e wor l d- wi de. Unl i ke t r adi t i onal bul l yi ng,
whi ch usual l y t akes pl ace by a f ace- t o- f ace encount er , def endant
used t he advant ages of t he i nt er net t o at t ack hi s vi ct i ms f r oma
saf e di st ance, t went y- f our hour s a day, whi l e cl oaked i n
anonymi t y. Al t hough t he Fi r st Amendment may not gi ve def endant
t he r i ght t o engage i n t hese act i vi t i es, t he t ext of Al bany
Count y' s l aw envel ops f ar mor e t han act s of cyber bul l yi ng agai nst
chi l dr en by cr i mi nal i zi ng a var i et y of const i t ut i onal l y- pr ot ect ed
modes of expr essi on. We t her ef or e hol d t hat Al bany Count y' s
Local Law No. 11 of 2010 - - as dr af t ed - - i s over br oad and
f aci al l y i nval i d under t he Fr ee Speech Cl ause of t he Fi r st
Amendment .
Accor di ngl y, t he or der of Count y Cour t shoul d be
r ever sed and t he accusat or y i nst r ument di smi ssed.
- 15 -
Peopl e v Mar quan M.
No. 139
SMI TH, J . ( di ssent i ng) :
Al bany Count y has conceded t hat cer t ai n pr ovi si ons of
i t s Cyber - Bul l yi ng Law ar e i nval i d. I t seems t o me t hat t hose
pr ovi si ons can be r eadi l y sever ed f r omt he r est of t he
l egi sl at i on and t hat what r emai ns can, wi t hout any st r ai n on i t s
l anguage, be i nt er pr et ed i n a way t hat r ender s i t
const i t ut i onal l y val i d.
The oper at i ve pr ovi si on of t he l aw says si mpl y: " No
per son shal l engage i n Cyber - Bul l yi ng agai nst any mi nor or per son
i n t he Count y of Al bany. " The Count y does not def end t he l aw as
i t appl i es t o adul t s, and t he maj or i t y acknowl edges t hat we may
consi der t he st at ut e as i f t he wor ds " or per son" wer e del et ed
( maj or i t y op at 13) . But t he maj or i t y f i nds i r r epar abl e
const i t ut i onal f l aws i n t he def i ni t i on of Cyber - Bul l yi ng, whi ch
i s as f ol l ows:
" Cyber - Bul l yi ng shal l mean any act of
communi cat i ng or causi ng a communi cat i on t o
be sent by mechani cal or el ect r oni c means,
i ncl udi ng post i ng st at ement s on t he i nt er net
or t hr ough a comput er or emai l net wor k,
di ssemi nat i ng embar r assi ng or sexual l y
expl i ci t phot ogr aphs; di ssemi nat i ng pr i vat e,
per sonal , f al se or sexual i nf or mat i on, or
sendi ng hat e mai l , wi t h no l egi t i mat e
pr i vat e, per sonal , or publ i c pur pose, wi t h
t he i nt ent t o har ass, annoy, t hr eat en, abuse,
t aunt , i nt i mi dat e, t or ment , humi l i at e, or
- 1 -
- 2 - No. 139
ot her wi se i nf l i ct si gni f i cant emot i onal har m
on anot her per son. "
The Count y concedes t hat t he wor ds " embar r assi ng" and
" hat e mai l " ar e " vague and t hus unenf or ceabl e" ( Br i ef of
I nt er venor - Respondent Al bany Count y [ Count y Br i ef ] at 8 n 4) . I t
ar gues, cor r ect l y I t hi nk, t hat t hese t er ms can be deal t wi t h i n
t he same way as t he r ef er ence t o " per son" i n t he oper at i ve
sect i on: si mpl y by cr ossi ng t hemout . Once t hese del et i ons ar e
made, I see not hi ng i n t he l aw t hat r ender s i t unconst i t ut i onal .
The maj or i t y, i t seems, i s t r oubl ed by t wo ot her
aspect s of t he def i ni t i on of " Cyber - Bul l yi ng" : t he r equi r ement
t hat t he f or bi dden communi cat i ons be made " wi t h no l egi t i mat e
pr i vat e, per sonal or publ i c pur pose" ; and t he ser i es of ver bs - -
" har ass, annoy, t hr eat en, abuse, t aunt , i nt i mi dat e, t or ment ,
humi l i at e" - - t hat pr ecedes t he wor ds " or ot her wi se. " Nei t her
r equi r es us t o i nval i dat e t he l aw.
I gr ant t hat t he wor ds " no l egi t i mat e . . . pur pose"
ar e not r emar kabl e f or t hei r pr eci si on. We have t wi ce hel d,
however , t hat t hey ar e cl ear enough t o wi t hst and a const i t ut i onal
chal l enge f or vagueness ( Peopl e v Shack, 86 NY2d 529, 538 [ 1995]
[ hol di ng val i d a pr ohi bi t i on on t he maki ng of a t el ephone cal l
" wi t h i nt ent t o har ass, annoy, t hr eat en or al ar manot her per son .
. . wi t h no pur pose of l egi t i mat e communi cat i on" ] ; Peopl e v
St uar t , 100 NY2d 412, 428 [ 2003] [ hol di ng val i d an ant i - st al ki ng
st at ut e pr ohi bi t i ng a descr i bed cour se of conduct when engaged i n
" f or no l egi t i mat e pur pose" ] ) . We sai d i n Shack:
- 2 -
- 3 - No. 139
" t he phr ase ' no pur pose of l egi t i mat e
communi cat i on' . . . not wi t hst andi ng i t s
subj ect i ve qual i t y, woul d be under st ood t o
mean t he absence of expr essi on of i deas or
t hought s ot her t han t hr eat s and/ or
i nt i mi dat i ng or coer ci ve ut t er ances. "
Si mi l ar l y her e, t he phr ase " no l egi t i mat e pur pose" shoul d be
under st ood t o mean t he absence of expr essi on of i deas or t hought s
ot her t han t he mer e abuse t hat t he l aw pr oscr i bes.
I t i s t r ue, as t he maj or i t y says ( maj or i t y op at 14 n
4) t hat t he cr i mi nal conduct at i ssue i n Shack and St uar t was
di f f er ent f r omt he conduct at i ssue her e - - but t hat does not
make t he wor ds " no l egi t i mat e pur pose" any mor e or l ess vague.
The maj or i t y i s al so cor r ect i n sayi ng t hat " t he Fi r st Amendment
f or bi ds t he gover nment f r omdeci di ng whet her pr ot ect ed speech
qual i f i es as ' l egi t i mat e' " ( maj or i t y op at 13) , but t hi s begs t he
cent r al quest i on of what speech i s " pr ot ect ed" and what i s not .
The Cyber - Bul l yi ng l aw pr ohi bi t s a nar r ow cat egor y of val uel ess
and har mf ul speech when t he gover nment pr oves, among ot her
t hi ngs, t hat t he speaker had no l egi t i mat e pur pose f or engagi ng
i n i t . The speech so pr ohi bi t ed i s not pr ot ect ed speech.
As f or t he l i st of ver bs begi nni ng wi t h " annoy" and
endi ng wi t h " humi l i at e, " i t i s f ai r t o r ead t hem, as t he Count y
ur ges, as " a non- exhaust i ve l i st of ways t hat t he wr ongdoer may
f or mul at e hi s or her i nt ent t o i nf l i ct emot i onal har mon t he
vi ct i m" ( Count y Br i ef at 8) . I n ot her wor ds, t he act s wi t hi n t he
scope of t he Cyber - Bul l yi ng l aw - - di ssemi nat i ng sexual l y
expl i ci t phot ogr aphs or pr i vat e, per sonal , f al se or sexual
- 3 -
- 4 - No. 139
i nf or mat i on - - ar e pr ohi bi t ed onl y wher e t hey ar e i nt ended t o
" i nf l i ct si gni f i cant emot i onal har m" on t he vi ct i m, and t he ver bs
mer el y ser ve as exampl es of ways i n whi ch si gni f i cant emot i onal
har mmay be i nf l i ct ed. That i s not t he onl y possi bl e way t o r ead
t he t ext of t he l aw, but i t i s a per f ect l y r easonabl e way - -
i ndeed, t he wor d " ot her wi se" seems t o si gnal t hat t he ver bs
pr ecedi ng i t ar e onl y i l l ust r at i ve. So r ead, t he l aw does not
pr ohi bi t conduct i nt ended t o har ass, annoy, t hr eat en or t he l i ke
unl ess t he act or speci f i cal l y i nt ended " si gni f i cant emot i onal
har m. " I do not f i nd such a pr ohi bi t i on t o be unconst i t ut i onal l y
vague or over br oad.
I n shor t , I t hi nk t he maj or i t y makes t oo much of what
i t sees as f l aws i n t he dr af t smanshi p of t he Cyber - Bul l yi ng l aw.
The cr ux of t he case, i n my vi ew, i s whet her Al bany Count y
const i t ut i onal l y may do what i t i s t r yi ng t o do - - t o pr ohi bi t
cer t ai n ki nds of communi cat i on t hat have no l egi t i mat e pur pose
and ar e i nt ended t o i nf l i ct si gni f i cant emot i onal i nj ur y on
chi l dr en. The answer t o t hi s quest i on i s not sel f - evi dent . The
Fi r st Amendment pr ot ect s some ext r emel y obnoxi ous f or ms of
speech, i ncl udi ng i nsul t s of f er ed t o a dead sol di er at hi s
f uner al ( Snyder v Phel ps, 562 US ___, 131 S Ct 1207 [ 2011] ) and
hor r i f yi ngl y vi ol ent vi deo games mar ket ed t o t eenager s ( Br own v
Ent er t ai nment Mer chant s Assn. , 564 US ___, 131 S Ct 2729
[ 2011] ) . But Snyder i t sel f makes cl ear t hat speech desi gned t o
i nf l i ct ser i ous emot i onal i nj ur y i s pr ot ect ed onl y when, as i n
- 4 -
- 5 - No. 139
Snyder , t he speech i s di r ect ed at a mat t er of publ i c concer n:
" Whet her t he Fi r st Amendment pr ohi bi t s
hol di ng West bor o l i abl e f or i t s speech i n
t hi s case t ur ns l ar gel y on whet her t hat
speech i s of publ i c or pr i vat e concer n, as
det er mi ned by al l t he ci r cumst ances of t he
case . . . . [ R] est r i ct i ng speech on pur el y
pr i vat e mat t er s does not i mpl i cat e t he same
const i t ut i onal concer ns as l i mi t i ng speech on
mat t er s of publ i c i nt er est "

( 131 S Ct at 1215; see al so Hust l er Magazi ne, I nc. v Fal wel l ,
485 US 46, 53 [ 1988] [ speech about a " publ i c f i gur e" i s
const i t ut i onal l y pr ot ect ed even i f ut t er ed wi t h i nt ent t o cause
emot i onal di st r ess because r egul at i on of emot i onal l y har mf ul
speech about publ i c f i gur es woul d chi l l debat e on publ i c
mat t er s] ) .
I t i s t hus cl ear t hat t he emot i onal abuse i nvol ved i n
Snyder woul d not have been const i t ut i onal l y pr ot ect ed i f , l i ke
Mar quan' s r emar ks about hi s f el l ow st udent s, i t had r ef er r ed t o
no mat t er of publ i c i mpor t ance and had been ut t er ed pur el y out of
pr i vat e r age or spi t e. And t he vi ct i ms of t he abuse i n Snyder
wer e adul t s; i n t hat r espect , t he pr esent case i s a f or t i or i .
The Al bany Count y Cyber - Bul l yi ng l aw i s val i d.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Or der r ever sed and accusat or y i nst r ument di smi ssed. Opi ni on by
J udge Gr af f eo. Chi ef J udge Li ppman and J udges Read, Ri ver a and
Abdus- Sal aamconcur . J udge Smi t h di ssent s i n an opi ni on i n whi ch
J udge Pi got t concur s.
Deci ded J ul y 1, 2014
- 5 -

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