The Appellate Group

Lehi City v. Rickabaugh

Lehi City v. Rickabaugh, 2021 UT App 36 (Pohlman, J.)


The defendant was found guilty of electronic communication harassment after he sent a series of Facebook messages to victim. The defendant appealed to the district court, challenging his conviction on First Amendment grounds and arguing that the statute in question was overbroad and vague—both on its face and as applied to him. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed, holding:

  • Practice Point: An appellate court will find a statute unconstitutional only if each of the challenged provisions is unconstitutional. A finding that one provision is valid will uphold a conviction.
  • When the statute is read as a whole, Utah Code 76-9-210(2)(b) is not facially overbroad, because it does not sweep up a “substantial amount” of constitutionally protected speech. “Fighting words” are not protected by the First Amendment. And the State has a compelling interest in protecting its citizens from threatening or harmful behavior. 
  • Defendant’s as-applied overbreadth challenge is not substantially distinct from his facial overbreadth challenge, and the court does not consider it.
  • The statute is not unconstitutionally vague, either facially or as applied to defendant. It clearly proscribed the language “YOU ARE #1 ON MY LIST OF PEOPLE TO DESTROY!” as well as language suggesting that defendant would “SMASH” parts of the victim’s body.
  • Practice Point: A specific intent requirement does not automatically save a statute from an overbreadth challenge.
  • Practice Point: A party arguing the unconstitutionality of a statute on state constitutional grounds should undertake a separate and distinct state constitutional analysis.

Read the full court opinion