Juan Mata will be sentenced today in Farmington, N.M., for criminal libel, says USA Today. He carried a picket sign that called a police officer a “liar” and a “dirty cop.” Mata, 32, was convicted in August for libeling Mike Briseno, a police officer with whom Mata has been feuding since a traffic stop in November 2002.
The case is part of what USA Today calls “a small but steady stream of prosecutions under state laws, some dating to the 19th century, that criminalize false, damaging statements about officials or private citizens.” David Hudson Jr. of the First Amendment Center in Nashville says such laws discourage fair criticism. Farmington prosecutor William Cooke says people should not be permitted to make harmful charges that they know are false. He says Mata’s placard showed “actual malice” and that Briseno found it to be threatening. “I’m extremely thankful that we live in a country with free speech, but certain kinds of speech aren’t free,” Cooke says. Mata’s attorney says that as a public figure, Briseno is a fair target.