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A Crime to Emotionally Distress People?

The Missouri Legislature just passed a bill that, among other things, makes it a crime whenever someone

(4) Knowingly communicates with another person who is, or who purports to be, seventeen years of age or younger and in so doing and without good cause recklessly frightens, intimidates, or causes emotional distress to such other person; or ...

(6) Without good cause engages in any other act with the purpose to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress to another person, cause such person to be frightened, intimidated, or emotionally distressed, and such person's response to the act is one of a person of average sensibilities considering the age of such person.

So ordinary teasing would be a crime, so long as it causes "emotional distress" and is "without good cause" (as much teasing would be). And a wide range of other speech and conduct is a potential crime, depending on whether a judge or jury concludes you had "good cause" for your actions. And if the action is done by someone 21 or over against someone who's 17 or younger, it's a felony.

So you're annoyed by a 16-year-old who's too loud, and you insult them in front of friends in a way that's "emotionally distressing" — under the new law, you'd be a felon. You're annoyed by what you see as poor service from a 16-year-old employee in a store, and you berate them in front of other customers in a way that's "emotionally distressing," and you'd be a felon if the judge or jury concludes that the public berating is "[w]ithout good cause." And whenever two 13-year-olds distress each other without good cause, they'd both be committing misdemeanors. I hope the governor vetoes the bill, but I have no reason to expect that.

Dan Solove has a lot more. Looks like an overreaction to the Megan Meier teasing-leading-to-suicide case, which is indeed a tragedy but which certainly doesn't justify a response as broad and vague as this one.

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