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North Carolina Criminal Law Chapter 14-47: Communicating Libelous Matter to Newspapers

1. Definition and Elements of the Crime

Libelous Matter Under North Carolina Criminal Law Chapter 14-47, the crime of communicating false or libelous matter to a newspaper is defined as the transmission and/or communication of false or libelous information to a newspaper for publishing when the individual transmitting the information knows or believes the same to be false or libelous or is recklessly indifferent as to the validity of the information.

To prove a charge of communicating libelous matter to a newspaper, the State carries the Burden of Proof and Burden of Production of Evidence.

The assistant district attorney or “ADA” assigned to prosecute the matter on behalf of the State of North Carolina must present sufficient evidence in court to establish a prima facie showing of the offense, including things like:

  1. That the Defendant transmitted, to a newspaper person, a libelous statement
  2. That the newspaper person may include the following:
    1. Manager
    2. Reporter
    3. Editor
    4. Publisher of a newspaper or periodical
  3. That the Defendant (the person accused of the criminal charges in North Carolina) so informed the newspaper person for the purpose of having that information published.
  4. That the newspaper or periodical published the information
  5. That the libelous statement was libelous of the victim; that is, was of such a nature as to defame the reputation of the victim
    1. “Libel” is described by lawyers as a “published false statement” that damages someone’s reputation. Libel is the written form of “defamation.”
  6. That this information was false
  7. That the Defendant knew or believed that the information was false or that they were recklessly indifferent as to whether the published statement true or false

Where the victim is a “public figure” or where the event being reported is of “public concern,” the jury should be instructed that “recklessly indifferent” means that the Defendant knew he had no basis for determining whether the statement was true or false.

Publishing or sharing true statements about another, even if damaging to their character or reputation in the community, is not generally considered “libel” or “slander” or “defamation.”

2. Examples

Defendant dislikes the plaintiff's lawyer of an opposing party. Defendant communicates to a local newspaper editor, Defendant’s friend, that the lawyer embezzled funds from his previous employer causing his termination.

Defendant knows this statement is totally false. The newspaper runs the story. Defendant may be charged with communicating libelous information to newspapers.

Defendant is running for political office in Charlotte, N.C. In order to obtain an advantage over opponent and “smear” their good name, Defendant informs newspaper publisher that opponent contracted herpes while cheating on his wife with a prostitute. Defendant had heard rumors about a prior arrest for prostitution in Mecklenburg County, but had no basis or foundation to support his assertion. The statement is in fact false. The newspaper publishes the article in the next day. Defendant can be charged with communicating libelous information to newspapers.

3. Related Offenses and Legal Topics of Interest
  1. What should I do if I’m arrested?
  2. What does Indicted mean?
  3. What does Burden of Proof mean?
  4. Are Lie Detectors reliable?
  5. Do I need a lawyer?
4. Defenses to Communicating Libelous Matter to Newspapers

The Defendant has a defense to prosecution under N.C.G.S. 14-47 if he can prove that the transmitted statement or communication is true.

Truth is an absolute defense to slander or libel.

5. Penalties

Slander or Libel The crime of communicating libelous matter to a newspaper is a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by a maximum period of incarceration of 60 days in the County Jail pursuant to the NC Misdemeanor Punishment Chart.

6. Criminal Defense for Communicating Libelous Matter to Newspapers

If you have been charged with the crime of communicating libelous matter to newspapers like the Charlotte Observer, we recommend you immediately retain legal representation by an experienced Charlotte criminal attorney who can advise you of your rights and guide you through the court process.

Our team of criminal defense lawyers is available for consultation. We charge nothing for the initial consultation. Everything you tell our defense lawyers and support staff is confidential.

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