Senate Bill – SB102 – Concerning the repeal of the crime of criminal libel. The bill repeals the crime of criminal libel, effective September 1, 2012. On February 14, the Judiciary Committee referred the unamended bill to the full Senate for consideration on 2nd Reading. On Friday, February 17, the Senate passed the bill on 2nd Reading.
So what does that mean for the citizens of Colorado? Probably not much since the far more common offense is the tort of libel. Libel is an untruthful statement about a person, published in writing or through broadcast media, that injures the person's reputation or standing in the community. Most states have retraction statutes under which a defamed person who fails to seek a retraction from the publisher, or who seeks and obtains a retraction, is limited to compensation equal to the actual (or special) damages.
The injured person can bring a lawsuit against the person who made the false statement. Libel and slander (an untruthful statement that is spoken, but not published in writing or broadcast through the media), are both considered forms of defamation.
Occasionally one hears the assertion of libel per se. Libel per se is asserted when false statements that are so widely understood to be harmful that they are presumed to be defamatory, such as an accusation that a person has committed a crime, has a dreaded disease, or is unable to perform one's occupation.
Public figures, including elected officials and candidates, can only prevail in defamation lawsuits if they can show that the defamation was made with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth.