Defamation is a Class A misdemeanor in Wisconsin.  For help with this charge, or any other, contact Van Severen Law Office at (414) 270-0202

While defamation is traditionally thought of as the basis for a civil lawsuit, in Wisconsin it’s also prohibited by criminal law.  Although not a felony, defamation is the most serious misdemeanor charge in the state.  Specifically a Class A misdemeanor, a conviction for this charge can result in up to 9 months in jail, $10,000.00 in fines, or both.  You cannot go to prison for a defamation charge alone.

At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., we believe that hiring a top criminal defense lawyer is the ideal first step to take when facing criminal charges.  The best criminal defense lawyers in Wisconsin regularly defend individuals facing all kinds of criminal charges, ranging from misdemeanors to complex felonies.  Our criminal defense attorneys are among those regularly representing individuals facing criminal charges.  We represent defendants throughout all of Wisconsin.

Finally, we offer free consultations to potential clients.  During that free consultation, you’ll have the opportunities to meet with one of our criminal defense lawyers to discuss your case.  During that hour, we’ll discuss the facts, possible defenses, and how we believe we might be able to help.  Contact us at (414) 270-0202 to get started.

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Section 942.01 of the Wisconsin Statutes – Defamation

Section 942.01 of the Wisconsin Statutes prohibits defamation.  In indicates:

(1) Whoever with intent to defame communicates any defamatory matter to a 3rd person without the consent of the person defamed is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
(2) Defamatory matter is anything which exposes the other to hatred, contempt, ridicule, degradation or disgrace in society or injury in the other’s business or occupation.
(3) This section does not apply if the defamatory matter was true and was communicated with good motives and for justifiable ends or if the communication was otherwise privileged.
(4) No person shall be convicted on the basis of an oral communication of defamatory matter except upon the testimony of 2 other persons that they heard and understood the oral statement as defamatory or upon a plea of guilty or no contest.

Importantly, the defamation statute focuses on communications that are defamatory matters.  A defamatory matter is anything that exposes the subject to hatred, contempt, ridicule, degradation, or disgrace in society or injury in the subject’s occupation.  It might go without saying, but defamatory matters are not positive things.  Therefore, a criminal prosecution for defamation cannot proceed if the communication isn’t negative, subjecting an individual to one of the listed requirements.

Additionally, this law does not apply if the defamatory matter was true and communicated for good motives and justifiable ends.  This section applies to privileged, or constitutionally protected, statements.  When this is an issue, the defendant raises the exception or the privilege.  It’s at that point that it becomes the state’s burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the exception or privilege does not actually apply.  While section 942.01(3) of the Wisconsin Statutes appears to be plain language, it actually relies heavily on legal arguments. The help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer is important when dealing with this.

Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 1380 – Defamation

Jury instructions accompany he majority of criminal laws in Wisconsin.  Those jury instructions break offenses down into small parts, called elements.  Those elements are importantly, because they’re what the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to sustain a conviction.  If they cannot do that, they cannot convict you.

Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 1380 provides the elements of defamation:

  • Firstly, the defendant communicated some information or matter about the victim.
    • “Communicate” means to make something known, such as stating something, writing something, or even drawing a picture of something.
  • Secondly, this communication about the victim was made to a third person.  The crime of defamation is not committed if the matter or information is communicated only to the person allegedly defamed.
  • Thirdly, the information or matter communicated about the victim was defamatory matter.
    • “Defamatory matter” is anything which exposes a person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, degradation, or disgrace in society, or injury in business or occupation.
    • It isn’t necessary for the victim’s reputation to actually suffer harm.  It is necessary only that the matter or information communicated tends to have a defamatory effect.
  • Fourthly, the defendant communicated this information or matter with the intent to defame the victim.
    • The phrase “with intent to” means that the defendant had the purpose to defame the victim or was aware that this conduct was practically certain to cause that result.
  • Fifth, the victim did not consent to the communication.
  • Finallyand only if oral communication was involved – two other persons head and understood the oral statement as defamatory.

Take a look at the six elements listed.  Will the government fail to prove one of these elements?  If so, they’ll be unable to prove a defamation charge against you.

Contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. to speak with one of Wisconsin’s best criminal defense lawyers

Certain criminal charges in Wisconsin are straightforward and easy to understand.  Defamation is a term we’re all familiar with, but defending against the criminal charge becomes very complex, very quickly.  That’s where an experienced criminal defense attorney steps in.  We handle cases just like this every day.  We understand the statute, the elements, the defenses, the opponent (prosecutor) and the venue (the circuit court your charges are in).  It’s infrequent that defendants have that level of expertise and experience, and that’s why we suggest bringing an attorney from Van Severen Law Office, S.C. onto your team.

Defending individuals facing criminal charges is all we do.  And we’re good at it, at least according to various awards organizations, judges, jurors who’ve heard us argue cases, fellow defense lawyers, and previous clients.

Contact us at (414) 270-0202 to be connected with our staff and to begin talking about your case.

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