Virginia Overturns Spam Conviction Citing First Amendment

Dennis Faas's picture

Virginia's tough anti-spam law has bitten the dust after the state's Supreme Court reversed its own decision in the case of a man who sent ten million messages in just two months.

As we reported in March, Jeremy Jaynes was the first American jailed for sending spam messages in the US. Though a North Carolina native, he was charged in Virginia because that's where the AOL servers he used are based.

Jaynes got a nine year sentence (three years for each of the three counts). Though sending unsolicited messages isn't technically illegal under state law, he was busted because he didn't give his name or provide a method for recipients to contact him and opt-out of future mailings, both of which are required for legal spamming.

After his conviction, Jaynes appealed to the state's Supreme Court that the law breached the First Amendment by not allowing him the right to anonymous free speech. The court rejected this argument, saying the Constitution doesn't apply to misleading and purely commercial communications such as those made by Jaynes.

In theory, Jaynes' only option after this was to take the case to the national Supreme Court in Washington, DC. However, his lawyers somehow persuaded the Virginia court to set its decision aside and hear the case again. (Source:

This time the Virginia judges backed Jayne's argument and declared the law unconstitutional because it isn't specifically restricted to commercial or fraudulent emails. To make things worse for lawmakers, the court also refused to issue a judgement which would limit the law in this way. Instead, they threw out the entire law and any revised version will have to go through the legislative process from scratch.

It's conceivable that Virginia authorities could themselves go to the national Supreme Court, but the inadequacies in the state law's wording means this is unlikely to succeed.

Jaynes has really pulled off a victory here: his offences came before the federal CAN-SPAM act, and his sentencing didn't include any fines or compensation orders. (Source:

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