Yet another mass shooting has taken place in America, this time right here at home in Maryland. The Anne Arundel man allegedly murdered five members of the Capital Gazette recently, before being arrested and taken into custody. It’s with a heavy heart that the people of Maryland once again are grieving a tragic shooting, this time apparently perpetrated due to a dispute arising out of a defamation suit.
Like many people who find themselves being reported on by the media, the shooter, Jarrod Ramos, reportedly felt jilted by the press. The paper ran a story about him, highlighting the details of his public criminal harassment case. As Esquire reports, the story was fairly straightforward but was titled “Jarrod wants to be your friend,” and it went on to expose some of the dangers of sharing private information with people online, especially people you don’t know.
In July 2011, public records indicate that Ramos pled guilty to criminal harassment for stalking, intimidating and threatening a woman he went to high school with years earlier. He found her on social media, struck up a conversation, then become aggressive and threatening, reports claim. By all accounts, this was a routine case of harassment that was litigated and resulted in a plea.
The paper reported on the case, using it to discuss the dangers of social media and strangers. Ramos read the article and became upset with the paper and its staff, eventually leading to the shooting this week. He then represented himself pro se, suing the paper for defamation. This did not go well, as the case was dismissed outright, because he failed to articulate a clear legal theory of how the paper committed defamation.
It’s impossible to know if things would have turned out differently had Ramos consulted a skilled attorney about the matter or been represented in the defamation case. Probably not. However, one important takeaway is to remember the value of having an attorney involved in your criminal defense and any civil matters relating to it. Often, things seem very clear at first, only to discover that a case you thought was very straightforward is actually quite complicated. A good lawyer can often help you better understand your rights and clarify why something is actionable or not. Often, this provides the closure many people are seeking, even if it’s not the answer they want.
Defamation is when someone publicly misrepresents facts about you or your business in such a way that it causes you an appreciable harm – usually economic losses. In other words, it’s a lie that costs you something. So, if you start spreading false rumors that a doctor is molesting children, and it costs the practice lost business, you could face a valid defamation suit. However, if you can show that you were reporting on public records and facts from a case where a jury found the doctor guilty of the crime, then you are not committing defamation; you are reporting news. Even if the reporting has errors, this is not generally enough to rise to the level of defamation.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, don’t try to handle it yourself. If you lose, it can leave you feeling upset and disgruntled. Often defendants don’t fully understand the charges or why they are getting the sentence they receive. You can’t expect the court or the prosecutor to protect your rights. As for civil matters, it’s usually very cost-effective to consult an attorney if you think you have a case. At the Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, P.A., our hearts go out to the victims of this senseless tragedy, and we encourage anyone who is considering violence to look for peaceful resources to resolve disputes.
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