The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Utah Code Ann. § 76-8-508.3 provides:
(1) As used in this section … "Harm" means physical, emotional, or economic injury or damage to a person or to his property, reputation, or business interests.
(2) A person is guilty of the third degree felony of retaliation against a witness, victim, or informant if, believing that an official proceeding or investigation is pending, is about to be instituted, or has been concluded, he:
(a) (i) makes a threat of harm; or (ii) causes harm; and
(b) directs the threat or action:
(i) against a witness or an informant regarding any official proceeding [or] a victim of any crime …; and
(ii) as retaliation or retribution against the witness, victim, or informant.
(3) This section does not prohibit any person from seeking any legal redress to which the person is otherwise entitled.
So say that you hear that Pat accused Jesse of a crime, and that Jesse is therefore being investigated or prosecuted. You happen to know facts suggesting that Pat is untrustworthy, you sympathize with Jesse, and you're angry at Pat for what you think is a false or exaggerated accusation. So you tell a reporter who's covering the accusations about Pat's untrustworthiness.
Sounds like you might well be a felon under Utah law, no?
(1 & 2(a)(i))) You have caused harm to Pat, by causing damage to Pat's reputation (and perhaps business interests), and possibly also emotional injury. Your statement is true, but the statute covers all damage to reputation, not just damage caused by defamatory falsehoods.
(2(b)(i)) You directed the action against a witness (Pat), and perhaps also a victim, if you think Pat was indeed victimized but you think is exaggerating the nature of the crime.
(2(b)(ii)) A jury might conclude that you were acting out of "retaliation or retribution" against Pat, because you were motivated by disapproval of Pat's actions, even if you were also motivated by a desire for what you see as justice for Jesse.
(3) You are not seeking legal redress to which you are entitled: You're not the accused, and even if you are seeking legal redress for the accused, you're not the one entitled to any such legal redress.
I'm all for protecting witnesses and victims from violent crime, threats of violent crime, or blackmail (see here for more on blackmail—or else I'll tell people about what I saw you doing). And knowingly false statements, whether or not about witnesses and victims, can lead to libel liability and perhaps even criminal prosecution for libel, in those states that have criminal libel statutes. But protecting witnesses and victims from speech that damages reputation or economic interests through true statements or opinions, or from speech that causes emotional injury, strikes me as going way too far.