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Virginia justices overturn spam law

The ruling nullifies the prison sentence of a notorious offender.

September 13, 2008|From the Associated Press

RICHMOND, VA. — The Virginia Supreme Court declared the state's anti-spam law unconstitutional Friday and reversed the conviction of a man once considered one of the world's most prolific spammers.

The court unanimously agreed with Jeremy Jaynes' argument that the law violated the free-speech protections of the 1st Amendment because it does not restrict only commercial e-mails. Most other states have anti-spam laws, and there is a federal spam law as well.

The Virginia law "is unconstitutionally overbroad on its face because it prohibits the anonymous transmission of all unsolicited bulk e-mails, including those containing political, religious or other speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," Justice G. Steven Agee wrote.

In 2004, Jaynes became the first person in the nation to be convicted of a felony for sending unsolicited bulk e-mail. Authorities said Jaynes sent as many as 10 million e-mails a day from his home. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Jaynes was charged in Virginia because the e-mails went through an AOL server there.

The state Supreme Court last February affirmed Jaynes' conviction on several grounds but later agreed, without explanation, to reconsider the 1st Amendment issue. Jaynes was allowed to argue that the law unconstitutionally infringed on political and religious speech even though all his spam was commercial.

Jaynes' attorney, Thomas Wolf, has said sending commercial spam would still be illegal under the federal spam law even if Virginia's is invalidated. However, he said, the federal law would not apply to Jaynes because it was adopted after he sent the e-mails that were the basis for the state charges.

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