Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gag Order on Domestic Violence Perpetrator Violates 1st Amendment

A new decision from the court of appeals, Division II, Meredith v. Muriel, Docket No. 37098-1, held that a permanent domestic violence protection order restraining the father from contacting the US Department of Homeland Security regarding the mother’s immigration status violated the first amendment.

The first amendment proscribes governmental prior restraint of protected speech. A prior restraint, or gag order, is an order that prevents the restrained person from saying something in the future. Protected speech is, essentially, anything that isn’t libelous, slanderous, or incendiary (e.g. shouting fire in a crowded theater).

In this case, the father, an assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia, decided that he wanted an Internet bride. He then made contact with a 16-year-old from Colombia. When the girl turned 18, the father brought her over here, married her, and got her pregnant.

He also engaged in a pattern of domestic violence and abuse against her. The mother ended up in Pierce County and filed for dissolution. In the dissolution process, the father tried to intimidate witnesses and falsify evidence. He also tried to interfere with the mother’s immigration process.

Based on this past conduct, the court order restrained the father from contacting any government agency about the mother’s immigration status. The court of appeals remanded to the lower court with instructions to re-craft the restraining order so it didn’t restrain protected speech.

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