Challenges the false reports of police misconduct statute under arguments in violates the First Amendment

Case Description

In 2008, the State of Minnesota charged Melissa Crawley with falsely reporting police misconduct after she filed an action against a Winona police officer who she alleged of forging her signature on a medical release form. Crawley was convicted of falsely reporting police misconduct in 2010. The conviction was appealed.

In 2010 The ACLU of Minnesota filed a friend of the court brief in support of Crawley, when her case was appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The ACLU of Minnesota argued that this statute violated her constitutional rights in a number of ways. Although an individual who knowingly making false statements does not enjoy a First Amendment right to free speech, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the government may not single out a sub-set of unprotected speech based on the viewpoint of the speech. This statute violates that rule by punishing only false speech made against police officers. The law singles out false reports of police misconduct (both criminal and non-criminal) and subjects them to harsher punishment than a general false report of a crime. By singling out speech critical of police officers, this statute engages in viewpoint discrimination because it punishes only anti-government speech.

The statute imposes an additional layer of intimidation that likely has a chilling effect on genuine victims of police misconduct who may wish to report that misconduct. When an individual files a complaint against a police officer the investigator generally informs the individual that any knowingly false report of police misconduct is a crime. When faced with that proposition, the individual might consider the odds against him or her: the fear that because the same entity against which the accusations are made is also the one investigating the complaint charges, they may believe that the complaint was made in retaliation, and that his accusation will be denied and not be believed by the investigator or jury. Then after having gone through all that to be charged with falsely reporting police misconduct could scare away a lot of victims.

In 2010, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the jury trial decision, concluding that the statue was unconstitutional because it criminalized false speech critical of police but not false speech that favors the police. The decision was appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Read more.

In 2012 the Minnesota Supreme Court reveresed the Court of Appeals, holding that the satute merely criminalizes defamatory speech not protected by the First Amendment. However, because of its narrow construction of the statute, the Supreme court remanded the case back to state district court for retrial.

In 2014 the case was heard again in the district court. There, the court entered a conviction on the lesser misdemeanor charge of falsely reporting a crime based on the original jury verdict in 2009.


Mary Vasaly, Abigail Richey-Allen, and Sarah Riskin from Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand, LLP


Winona County District Court