Police: Woman Arrested For Spreading Facebook Photos Of Undercover Cop

 

Melissa Walthall mug shot

Police: Woman Arrested For Spreading Facebook Photos Of Undercover Cop.  This is fascinating…

Apparently Melissa Walthall has been charged with ‘Retaliation’ for posting the Facebook photo of an undercover officer that testified against her friend.  My gut instinct is that publishing a photo that was previously published on a social media site is highly unlikely to be criminal behavior.  Additionally, while an undercover officer’s identity is should be kept secret, law enforcement’s ability to punish someone for revealing that identity is likely abrogated when they are already publicly identified.  Such identification can occur by testifying in open court, which is apparently what happened here.  That is, it’s not a secret if the guy states his name on the record, and in public, as most court proceedings are.

I actually had to look up the statute for retaliation, as it is not frequently utilized.  My best guess is that agents are proceeding on a theory under section (b) that her conduct threatens bodily injury against a witness who had testified.  I straight reading of the statute would suggest this is an inappropriate application: it appears the statute indicates that the conduct should be threatening.  Disclosure of the identity, which isn’t a private fact if the officer had already been publicly revealed, would have to be coupled some knowledge or intent that it would lead to bodily injury.  That’s what prosecutors are alleging in the Paul Bergrin murder case.  Disclosure itself does not likely constitute a “threat”.  Additionally, I doubt that this could be a “disclosure”, due to the fact that he already testified in public, and because he posted the picture on Facebook.

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