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Pattakos Law Firm obtains 8-minute “not-guilty” verdict from Canfield jury, one of the fastest “not guilty” verdicts in Ohio history, for woman wrongly charged with telecommunications harassment

This afternoon, eight jurors empaneled by the Mahoning County Area Court #5 in Canfield, Ohio took eight minutes to come back with a not-guilty verdict for our client, a single mother in her 50s who was charged with “telecommunications harassment” under Ohio Revised Code Section 2917.21.

This charge was purportedly based on our client having sent a series of angry and expletive-laced Facebook messages to another woman who had admittedly posted a series of comments on the internet maligning our client’s cousin as “demonic,” “delusional,” and “insane,” among other epithets, in connection with a longstanding familial dispute that had become the subject of online gossip. The alleged “victim” had been posting such comments about our client’s family members for years before our client—a Wood County resident who had never before met or spoken with the alleged “victim”— finally responded with a series of angry messages on a single day over the course of seven minutes, for which the alleged “victim” reported our client to a Canfield police officer. This police officer, Josh Wells, was the only other witness who testified for the state, and admitted on cross examination that he and the “victim” had a mutual friend who is an assistant prosecutor in the Ohio Attorney General’s office, who was a part of the family on the other side of the underlying dispute, and was sitting in the courtroom with the “victim” throughout the day-long trial.

Our client’s messages, while again admittedly angry and profane, clearly constituted protected speech under the First Amendment, which ensures a citizen’s right to express anger, including with profanity, as long as clear boundaries of abusive conduct are not crossed. The facts of this case did not come close to crossing those boundaries, it never should have been prosecuted, and it should have never gone to a jury in the first place.

But when government officials fail to fulfill their duty to respect and protect citizens’ Constitutional rights, thankfully U.S. citizens still have recourse to a jury of our peers before the state can brand and jail them as a criminal. This Canfield jury, thankfully, had no doubt about the importance of the freedom of speech that was at issue in this case and sent a powerful message by coming back with its not-guilty verdict in eight minutes, which was well-deserved here.

It is also, according to our research, one of the fastest not-guilty verdicts in Ohio history. Having polled a number of esteemed and experienced Ohio trial-lawyers, we only received one credible report of a quicker not-guilty verdict, in five-minutes, on a charge of falsifying records, and a less credible report of a seven-minute not-guilty verdict on unspecified charges. Given that a jury generally needs to at least elect a foreperson, deliberate on its decision, and fill out the verdict forms before returning to the courtroom with its verdict, five to eight minutes is about as fast as jury deliberations could possibly be. Thus, we submit that “not guilty” verdicts within this range are so improbable that they are virtually equal.

In any event, The Pattakos Law Firm stands firmly against the criminalization of Constitutionally protected speech. We’re proud to fight against all such efforts and are especially proud of these jurors from Canfield for sending a clear message in decisively upholding Americans’ most fundamental Constitutional right—to speak freely.

The case discussed herein is No. 2022 CRB 390 CNF. Attorneys Zoran Balac and Peter Pattakos served as trial counsel for the Defendant.