STATE v. TERI A. BUHL, SC 19412/19413

Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk

 

†††† Criminal; Whether Evidence Sufficient to Sustain Convictions of Harassment and Breach of the Peace; Whether Appellate Court Properly Declined to Address Free Speech and Journalistic Privilege Claims on Ground that they were Inadequately Briefed.† The defendant was convicted following a trial to the court of harassment in the second degree and breach of the peace in the second degree in connection with certain mail communication with the victims, P and M, and electronic transmissions on the Facebook website.† The defendant, a journalist, was involved in a romantic relationship with P when she created a Facebook profile using a fictitious name.† On the profile, she posted a message about alcohol use and sexual conduct by Pís seventeen year old daughter, M, as well as photographs of Mís handwritten diary entries, which described an incident in which M had engaged in sexual conduct at a party.† The defendant also anonymously sent P an envelope by mail containing copies of the diary pages along with an unsigned letter addressed to P that was purportedly written by a friend of M to advise P of Mís behavior.† Several days after P told the defendant about the mailing, she admitted to him that she had sent it.† She told P that she was given the diary entries by one of Mís classmates, whose identity she had promised to keep confidential.† When questioned by police, the defendant stated that she was doing an investigative report on underage drinking.† While she denied creating the Facebook profile, a police investigation linked her to the internet protocol address connected to the profile. †The defendant appealed, claiming, among other things, that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the convictions.† The Appellate Court (152 Conn. App. 140) upheld the harassment conviction, holding that the evidence was sufficient for the trial court to have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant intended to harass, annoy or alarm M and P by sending the materials anonymously and that this caused annoyance and alarm to both victims, as required by the harassment statute.† The Appellate Court agreed with the defendant, however, that the evidence was insufficient to support the breach of the peace conviction.† The court found that because the state failed to provide testimony from a person qualified to establish that the Facebook postings were of a public nature, the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the required element that the postings were publicly exhibited, distributed, posted or advertised in a public place or in an area used or held out for use by the public.† Both the state and the defendant were granted certification to appeal.† The stateís appeal challenges the Appellate Courtís determination that the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to support the defendantís conviction of breach of the peace in violation of General Statutes ß 53a-181 (a) (4).† The defendantís appeal challenges the Appellate Courtís refusal to address her claims that her conduct was protected by free speech and journalistic privilege on the ground that they were inadequately briefed and the courtís determination that the evidence introduced at trial was sufficient to convict her of harassment in the second degree in violation of General Statutes ß 53a-183 (a) (2).