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 violates the free-speech protections of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, because it does not just restrict commercial e-mails. Most other states also have anti-spam laws, and there is a federal CAN-SPAM Act in the U.S. 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 country to be convicted of a felony for sending unsolicited bulk e-mail. Authorities claimed Jaynes sent up to 10 million e-mails a day from his home in Raleigh, N.C. 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 First 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 CAN-SPAM Act even if Virginia's law 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.