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Libel Suit By Convicted Murderer

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Zoe Tillman has this post at BLT:

Yorie Von Kahl was convicted of second degree murder in the 1983 fatal shooting of two deputy U.S. marshals in North Dakota. Kahl was sentenced to life in prison, but he scored a recent win from a Washington federal judge who found that Kahl could proceed with a libel suit against The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (BNA) over a summary of his case published by the company.
BNA's summary of the case said Kahl "showed no hint of contrition."  That turned out to be a prosecutor's argument rather than the judge's ruling, but Kahl himself may be partly responsible for the confusion.

BNA argued that Kahl's petition gave the impression that the excerpted comments were made by the judge, and that the Criminal Law Reporter piece provided an accurate summary. The company argued that it was only reporting on the petition and should be protected by the "fair reporting" principle, which immunized the press against defamation claims for accurately reporting on information from public documents or proceedings. BNA pointed to a 2011 opinion from the D.C. federal court in Carpenter v. King finding that precise attribution wasn't required for the privilege to apply.

BNA also said in its filings the judge did address Kahl's contrition when he said that he had a hard time understanding the "lack of concern" that Kahl and his co-defendants expressed for the victims and their families. According to the transcript, the judge didn't address the prosecutor's claim about statements to the press.

In any case where a violent criminal is suing for money damages, there should be a lien on any award to pay damages or restitution to the victim or victim's family.  Unfortunately, in old cases there may be no restitution order from the criminal case, and it may be too late to get a civil judgment.  The North Dakota statute of limitations on wrongful death is 2 years, according to lawyers.com.

We should eliminate civil statutes of limitations for damages for violent crimes when the perpetrator has been convicted.  The problems of staleness of evidence and inability to defend oneself that underlie statutes of limitations are not present when the crime has been admitted or proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

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