The parties stipulated to the facts underlying this appeal. Baker was charged with violating section 720.4 based on a telephone conversation Baker had with Debra Krause, who had recently served as a juror in a criminal proceeding against one Greg Schoo, a friend of Baker. On May 8, 2003, the jury convicted Schoo of first-degree burglary, which carries a mandatory twenty-five-year prison sentence.
The day after the verdict was rendered Krause received a phone call that began with the caller’s question, “Is this Deb?” Because Krause and Baker had previously worked together, Krause recognized Baker’s voice. In addition, Krause’s caller ID confirmed the call was made from Baker’s telephone. When Krause responded that yes, she was Deb, the caller stated, “This is Rose.” The caller then asked Krause “if [she] knew that [she] gave him 25 years.” Krause understood Baker was referring to Schoo. Krause told Baker she did not know what sentence Schoo had received. Baker then stated: “Well, I just thought you should know you gave him 25 years,” and hung up the phone.
Krause notified law enforcement of Baker’s call. Although Krause did not feel threatened by Baker, she was bothered and upset by the call and Baker’s tone of voice. According to Krause, she “was in disbelief that [Baker] had called [her] to say that.” Krause said she “did not beg and plead to be one of the jurors,” and would rather not have been picked, but it was “something [she] had to do — whether [she] wanted to or not!”
Baker was charged with jury tampering, under a statute that provides, “A person who ... in retaliation for anything lawfully done by any witness or juror in any case, harasses such witness or juror, commits an aggravated misdemeanor.” “Harassment” is in turn defined as, “with intent to intimidate, annoy, or alarm another person, ... [c]ommunicat[ing] with another by telephone, telegraph, writing, or via electronic communication without legitimate purpose, and in a manner likely to cause the other person annoyance or harm.” The court of appeals concluded that the prosecution could go forward:
Here there was clearly a jury question under the stipulated facts whether Baker contacted Krause to gather factual information about Krause’s knowledge and views of the sentencing system, or whether the contact was intended to intimidate or alarm Krause in retaliation for her role in convicting Schoo.
Rosemary Baker was ultimately convicted on remand.
The court of appeals decision, it seems to me, is wrong and quite dangerous. The court seems to be suggesting that the impermissible purpose might be a purpose to make Krause feel frightened (“intimidate[d] or alarm[ed]“) — but if the stipulated facts are sufficient to permit a prosecution based on this theory, then no-one is safe expressing to a juror that they thought the juror helped work an injustice, or for that matter expressing to other people that they thought those people did something bad. There is always the danger that a hostile prosecutor, judge, and jury will infer a bad purpose on your part, even when there were no threatening words, the listener makes clear that she didn’t feel threatened, and the listener knows you and has no reason from past contact to fear you. Whatever the scope of the “true threats” exception to the First Amendment, I doubt it can be broad enough to cover speech such as this.
Of course, it’s plausible, given the stipulated facts, that Baker might have wanted Krause to feel sorry or unhappy about what she helped do. But I doubt such a desire can strip such speech of constitutional protection, and in any event it seems to me a “legitimate purpose” for purposes of the statute (or else any call to someone to tell them that they did something bad, and to make them feel bad about it, would potentially be criminal “harassment”). At the very least, the phrase “without legitimate purpose” doesn’t sufficiently inform people that such a purpose is impermissible (and is, I think, unconstitutionally vague).
More broadly, I’m quite troubled by such laws that prohibit a considerable amount of conduct, much of which would be constitutionally protected, and then try to avoid this overbreadth by limiting the prohibition to conduct that lacks a “legitimate purpose.” Who can know what purposes the legal system will eventually find “legitimate”? If you want to punish threats, punish threats. If you want to punish behavior that has the purpose of assisting some crime, punish that. But don’t just leave to future prosecutors, judges, and juries the decision about what’s “legitimate” and what isn’t — and thus leave citizens uncertain about what’s allowed and what’s not.