Unfortunately, some people are falsely accused of crimes they did not commit. In some cases, this can progress into false imprisonment or other unjust penalties. More often than not, the accused will be more concerned with the damage done to his or her reputation. In the legal world, “defamation” refers to any type of attack on a person’s character. Defamation can be written, spoken, depicted in a video, or any other form of communication that could potentially reach many people.
Defamation can only happen under certain conditions. Anyone struggling with a false accusation should speak with an attorney. Thanks to technologies like mobile devices and social media, an attempted character assassination can spread like wildfire and seriously damage the target’s reputation.
How to Prove Defamation
The plaintiff (the party filing the lawsuit) must establish several facts to the court about the defaming statements in question. Generally, for statements to constitute defamation, they must be:
- You cannot argue defamation against true statements, no matter how injurious to your reputation they may be.
- An audience must have been able to see or hear the defaming comments. You cannot argue defamation against statements made in private or made without a wide audience.
- The law considers statements made in court proceedings or legislative chambers privileged, meaning the statements are only intended to reach the people to whom they are made. For example, a witness in a lawsuit who testifies something false may not be sued for defamation. However, knowingly lying under oath may lead to a perjury charge.
- You must be able to prove in court that the defaming statements caused you some kind of damage.
People of a certain stature will have other requirements to prove defamation, namely, public officials. The governed have the right to criticize those who govern them, but some critics take things too far. If a member of the public accuses a public official of misdeeds in their official capacity, the official must prove the above four requirements and also prove in court that the defendant “acted with actual malice,” or acted with the intent to damage the official’s reputation. In some cases, this requirement extends to well-known public figures like celebrities.
Defamation and the First Amendment
The First Amendment grants American citizens freedom of speech. Generally, this means Americans have the right to say what they want about anyone or anything, whenever they want, in whatever medium they choose. Freedom of speech allows citizens to fearlessly criticize their government. However, it does not mean freedom from the consequences of one’s speech. Defamation laws exist to create the line between protected speech and malicious, false statements one person uses to harm another.
Private citizens generally have more protection from defamation under the First Amendment than public figures. This is primarily because criticisms of public officials, even if untrue, are matters of public interest. This is why defamed officials must prove the defendant acted with actual malice. An example could be a journalist publishing negative comments about a politician without corroborating the facts before publishing. In some cases, the court may decree a defendant must publicly retract the defamatory statements he or she made.
Defamation cases can easily turn into complex legal battles, so if you find yourself in such a situation, reliable legal representation is crucial to reaching a positive result. Proving the extent of the damage done by the defaming speech is one of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of most defamation lawsuits. However, a competent and experienced attorney can show the court the full extent of the damage done to the plaintiff’s reputation.