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UConn student sentenced to probation for violating unconstitutional ‘ridicule’ law

‘Quick, easy and totally wrong’

Connecticut has a law that criminalizes “ridicule” of various forms. It’s blatantly unconstitutional.

But don’t count on a local judge to do something unpopular and toss a prosecution that outraged the progressive hordes and their cowardly university leaders.

Rockville Superior Court Judge James Sicilian accepted an application by the defendant, University of Connecticut student Jarred Karal, for “accelerated rehabilitation.”

The Hartford Courant characterizes this as “a special form of probation … that could result in the charge against him being dismissed.” It lasts six months, including 20 hours of community service and “diversity and bias training” for Karal.

Prosecutors charged Karal and Ryan Mucaj, another UConn student whose case is still pending, with “ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race.”

That’s an actual law on the books in the laughably named “Constitution State,” and it traces back to World War I, before the U.S. Supreme Court started dismantling laws intended to punish the content of speech.

It’s not even clear the law on its face applied to Karal and Mucaj: It explicitly regulates “advertisements,” as noted by UCLA First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh.

What the students actually did was shout crude words in a parking lot as they drunkenly returned home, directed toward no one in particular. They started with “penis” and moved on to the n-word – the latter the only word captured on a cellphone video that went viral.

The probation result is “[q]uick, easy and totally wrong,” criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield tweeted.

MORE: UConn officials risk legal liability for punishing Karal and Mucaj

Prosecutor Thadius Bochain, who should be disbarred for even bringing this case, told Judge Sicilian he supported Karal’s application but called his conduct “serious and concerning,” according to the Courant:

“There were protest and concern from the UConn community and the community as a whole. There are few words that carry the hurtful import as [the racial slur].” …

T.R. Paulding, Karal’s lawyer, said Karal is smart young man whose conduct that night “was very out of character.” He has done well at UConn is scheduled to graduate this spring from the university’s nursing program, Paulding said. …

Karal apologized to police for his actions, saying he and Mucaj were “acting dumb, idiotic and childish” and that they didn’t [think] anybody had heard them. Mucaj told police he didn’t remember what he had said because he was drunk but that “saying that word would be the last thing [he or his friends] would do.”

It appears that Karal decided against pursuing a full-frontal assault on the constitutionality of the law and seeking personal liability against UConn officials for violating his First Amendment rights.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said they could be held personally liable as government officials, in case Mucaj wants to stand up for the First Amendment rights of all UConn students.

MOREU. Iowa officials personally liable for ignoring First Amendment

UConn could have simply acquiesced to the demands of student activists in the wake of the video, such as a mandatory diversity course and “large cluster hire of Black administration, faculty, staff and police officers.”

Instead, it methodically chose to pursue criminal charges with a sentence of up to 30 days in jail against its own students for their offensive speech. Its police department reviewed extensive video and data surveillance for 11 days to identify Karal and Mucaj – ample time to conclude their shouted slur did not target anyone.

UConn President Thomas Katsouleas called the non-targeted shouting of offensive words in a parking lot “an egregious assault on our community that has caused considerable harm.” He congratulated campus police for spending so much time to investigate a non-crime.

The university nonsensically defended the prosecution by saying the blatantly unconstitutional law, passed at the height of government suppression of antiwar views, “remains a valid law to this date.”

Let’s hope the Connecticut Legislature is brave and sensible enough to remove this pathetic excuse for these pathetic government officials by overturning the “ridicule” statute. Rep. Arthur O’Neill and Sen. John Kissel are already on the record against the law.

Read the Courant report.

MORE: UConn students demand speech codes, mandatory hate crime course

IMAGE: Jan Mika/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.