Defamation - civil, criminal or both

Pretty much in the title. If I am defamed or slandered (what’s the difference?), do I sue in civil court, file a complaint with an LEO or DA or both? Note: not an actual case, just a question that came up.

I’ve never heard of a criminal law against defamation, so civil it is.

Defamation is a broader term that includes both slander and libel.

It’s almost always a civil suit.

Although some countries (ostensibly listed here, but I can’t vouch for that), have criminal defamation laws.

In the US, some states (not many) have criminal defamation laws, but I don’t think they are frequently used. Although, I think I read somewhere that some places are trying to use them to prosecute “revenge porn” posters.

Just to fill in, slander is oral defamation and libel is written (though in some jurisdictions a recording of slander would be deemed libel). The elements are the same in any event.

In “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” the male protagonist has been convicted of criminal libel.

There have been one or two criminal defamation prosecutions in Canada in recent years, I think, although some provinces have stricken the crime as being the Canadian equivalent of unconstitutional.

Sort of. The crime still stands, but the test has been tightened. For example, in Nfldthe statue was found to be unconstitutional if the publisher didn’t know of the falsehood.

There are many criminal defamation statutes in the United States.

A common one is so-called “Ag-Gag” laws that make it a crime to defame animal-related facilities in an effort to fight PETA-style protestors.

Strictly speaking, Ag-Gag laws make it a crime to enter animal-related facilities in order to obtain information with which to defame them.

I had thought they included both laws of the style [conduct] + [intent to criminally defame] as well as laws of the style [defamation] + [relationship to agriculture].

In any event, some states still have generic criminal libel laws under which there are occasional prosecutions.

Virginia has a criminal defamation statute, but it only applies to some acts that are commonly considered defamatory. For example, it is specifically criminal to falsely accuse a “female of chaste character” of committing “acts not virtuous and chaste”.

So since it is civil, there has to be actual damages right. I mean, someone spreading lies is not going to give you standing to sue unless you lose your job or a business deal over it. Or is that a state thing where YMMV and you can collect even without real damages?

When it is civil, the damages can be “per se” meaning not requiring additional proof for certain categories of defamation. The other categories require proof of damages of the kind you suggest.

In short, defamation per se means you said something so horrible that damage to the plaintiff is inevitable. At common law, the usual example was calling a woman a whore. Nowadays, you might have defamation per se if you claimed someone was, say, a rapist.

So if someone played the race card and in multiple instances called you a racist, would that be defamation per se? What if someone was just going around and calling you a liar or a cheat? Or are those gradations up to the judge?

The “per se” categories come from English common law, and do not include charges that someone is a racist.

They vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but I doubt any include that particular charge unless it was in the context of one of the other categories (like defaming someone’s business).

These “per se” categories were on the bar exam: insulting the chastity of a woman, disparaging a person’s business, suggesting he had a “loathsome” disease, or falsely accusing a person of criminal activity. Those are common law definitions that may have been altered in each state.

Some states may have the old common law crime of obscene libel.

Criminal courts only punish the action and not repair the damage (unless they order the return of stolen property, since its practical that the court is also deciding the fact… )

They could conceivably order restitution.

No, not by the provinces. Criminal law is exclusively a matter of federal jurisdiction. The provinces cannot change the federal law.

The federal offence of defamatory libel has been pared back by the Supreme Court of Canada to comply with constitutional requirements. It has also been interpreted by the lower courts, as in the decision of the Newfoundland Supreme Court cited by Muffin.

The modern distinction between libel and slander isn’t written vs oral, but permanent format vs transient format. Hence the rule that a recorded oral defamation is libel rather than slander.