A Montana man convicted of multiple counts of violating an electronic harassment law is asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the state law, arguing that it’s so sweeping that it violates free speech rights.
Montana’s electronic harassment law is similar to laws in other states, meaning if the Supreme Court were to strike it down, those other states’ laws could be in jeopardy.
The case, Lamoureux v. Montana, court file 21-427, is an appeal from the Montana Supreme Court.
William Frederick Lamoureux was found guilty by the 11th Judicial District Court, Flathead County, of three felony counts under the state’s Privacy in Communications statute. The statute criminalizes electronic communications made with the purpose to “harass, annoy, or offend,” using “obscene, lewd, or profane language.”
The issue before the nation’s highest court, should it decide to hear the case, is whether a “statute that criminalizes speech intended to annoy or offend is unconstitutionally overbroad under the First Amendment,” according to the petition for certiorari, or review, filed with the Supreme Court.
“Virtually every state has a similar form of electronic harassment law, with varying degrees of breadth,” the petition states.
In recent decades, courts have disagreed over whether laws forbidding speech intended to annoy or offend violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Eight state supreme courts and one federal court of appeals have held that such laws are “facially overbroad” in violation of the First Amendment, according to the petition. Three federal courts of appeals and six state high courts, including the Montana Supreme Court in this case, have determined that they do not run afoul of the First Amendment, either because they regulate conduct rather than speech, or “because they do not sweep in enough constitutionally protected speech to warrant facial invalidation.”
The U.S. Supreme Court “should resolve this enduring and worsening split” among the various courts, Lamoureux argues in the petition.
“The question is one of great and increasing importance, particularly given the prevalence of similar statutes, the proliferation of electronic communications that fall within the reach of those statutes, and the possibility of such electronic communications being covered by multiple jurisdictions.”
The charges came out of three threatening telephone calls Lamoureux made to two victims. Because he had at least one prior conviction under the law, the three new convictions became felonies.
An apparently drunk Lamoureux called his ex-wife’s jewelry store demanding the phone numbers of his ex-father-in-law and of one of the divorced couple’s children. The employee who answered the phone refused to give out the numbers, at which point Lamoureux used profanity and said he would get her fired, the Montana Supreme Court found in its ruling, which was written by Justice Laurie McKinnon.
Lamoureux called the store again and demanded the numbers. The employee again refused, at which point he said he would come to the store and slap her. The employee closed the store early and contacted the police.
On another day, a seemingly intoxicated Lamoureux called his former father-in-law and said he would “kill” his daughter and “stuff her in a culvert for the skunks to eat her.” On yet another day, the former father-in-law received a call from Lamoureux, in which he again said he would “kill” her, put her in a garbage bin, and set it on fire. He also threatened to burn the building housing the jewelry store to the ground. The father-in-law called his daughter and the police.
It’s unclear when the Supreme Court will take action.
Montana Assistant Attorney General Jonathan M. Krauss, who is counsel of record for the state in the U.S. Supreme Court case, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.