INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the state’s so-called revenge porn law in a Steuben County criminal case involving college students and social media phenomenon Snapchat.
"We conclude the statute advances the State’s compelling interest in protecting individuals from the unique and significant harms from the nonconsensual distribution of their intimate images, and it does so through means narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessarily abridging speech.
"This is therefore one of the rare cases in which a speech restriction withstands strict scrutiny."
Conner Katz was charged in May 2020 with misdemeanor distribution of an intimate image for allegedly sending an explicit video of his then-girlfriend to a friend in March 2020. Both Katz and the woman were students at Trine University.
The law was passed in 2019 to target the sharing of explicit images without permission of the person in them.
Katz’ attorneys argued the law was unconstitutional and Steuben Circuit Court Magistrate Randy Coffey dismissed the case on the ground it violated the U.S. and Indiana constitutional rights to free speech.
But the Indiana Supreme Court -- in a 37-page opinion -- said the statute doesn’t violate either the free interchange clause of the Indiana Constitution or the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and reinstated the criminal case.
"Faced with the widespread and growing problem of nonconsensual pornography, the legislature acted within its authority to safeguard the health and safety of its citizens from this unique and serious crime," the ruling said.
The justices said the image was allegedly taken without the victim’s knowledge or consent.
"Even if the image was originally created and sent with consent, the harm of its nonconsensual distribution is substantial.... The harm comes from the nonconsensual distribution of an individual’s intimate images, and as previously explained, the potential harms can be severe, including serious psychological, emotional, economic, and physical harm."
According to court records, Katz shared two Snapchat videos with an ex-girlfriend of himself and his then-girlfriend. One showed his new girlfriend giving him oral sex and was recorded secretly without the permission of the woman.
But the ex-girlfriend texted the current girlfriend and told her about the videos. Katz then apologized to the woman in the videos and said he knew it was wrong and shouldn't have sent them without her permission.
The woman in the videos -- and her identical twin sister -- have also filed a civil suit against Katz in Steuben County. But it has been halted until the criminal case works through the process.