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Federal Judge: Profanely Insulting An Entire Town On A Speeding Ticket Is Protected Speech

from the f#*@-yeah dept

Do you remember Willian Barboza? No? He was the un-creative but quite profane young man who, upon being pulled over for speeding the laughably-named Liberty, New York, mailed in his ticket and fine with these wonderful words of wisdom scrawled across the top.

Fine, so Barboza isn’t exactly Robert Frost. Still, his admittedly vulgar etchings probably weren’t reason enough for the city to refuse his payment and subsequently charge him with harrassment under a horribly unconstitutional law. The city went that route anyway, though, and the matter went before a court, where the judge dismissed the charges against Barboza, as his profanity upon the ticket was obviously protected speech. I had thought that was the end of the story. I was wrong.

Shortly after that, Barboza, with the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union and attorney Stephen Bergstein, filed a lawsuit against the town of Liberty, assistant district attorney Robert Zangla and the two officers who arrested Barboza. The suit alleged that the arrest had violated Barboza’s First Amendment right to free speech.

Barboza’s attorneys argued that officials in Liberty had seriously misinterpreted New York’s aggravated harassment statute. The statute says it’s against the law for a person to “harass, annoy, threaten or alarm” someone “by telephone, by telegraph, or by mail, or by transmitting or delivering any other form of written communication.” But Seibel said Thursday that what Barboza wrote, “though crude and offensive to some, did not convey an imminent threat and was made in the context of complaining about government activity,” and therefore did not violate the statute.

And, frankly, it’s hard to argue with his attorneys. The wonderful thing about free speech is that the speech is free even if the listener doesn’t like it. The city’s attempt to twist a harrassment law into the kind of pretzel that allows it to silence the criticism of government or law enforcement was deplorable and not befitting a town that takes the name of Liberty. As a person who relies on language some might find salty in order to make or emphasize a point, it would be a travesty to have to wonder whether simple expression might result in arrest and jail time. I, frankly, can’t think of anything more un-American.

The judge hearing Barboza and the NYCLU’s case agreed with them completely.

Judge Cathy Seibel said that prosecutors and police in Liberty, New York, violated Willian Barboza’s civil rights when they arrested and prosecuted him for writing “Fuck your shitty town bitches” on a ticket he received in 2012. The judge stated that Zangla is liable for damages because he violated Barboza’s clearly established constitutional rights, but that the two police officers are not liable because Zangla instructed them to make the arrest. Seibel also ruled that Liberty will have to stand trial for failing to train police officers regarding the First Amendment.

Perhaps we should be getting the primary schools Zangla went to involved as well, because First Amendment protection is elementary school civics class stuff. Regardless, it’s a win for all of us salty-mouthed bastards.

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Comments on “Federal Judge: Profanely Insulting An Entire Town On A Speeding Ticket Is Protected Speech”

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JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: FWIW, Liberty NY is a pretty famous speed trap town

There are places like that all over. I used to have a speed trap map for Texas – places with less than 1000 people, but like 20 full time police officers who write tickets that provide between 90 and 98 percent of the town’s budget. They often use obscure state laws to write tickets, even when you are aware of them.

For example, there’s a place in Texas along the Gulf coast where the speed limit changes from 45 to 35 to go through this small town. On the other side of town is a sign saying “End Speed Zone” with a cop next to it. So you make sure you’re doing 35 (or less) until you pass him before speeding up to 45… and then he pulls you over and gives you a ticket for 45 in a 30 zone. See, the sign said “End Speed Zone”, but didn’t not say what the new speed zone max was. You would THINK it would be the same as the old zone – 45. You’d also be wrong. Texas state law says that zone is “unposted” and unposted speed zones are 30 in rural areas, and 25 in cities. Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse… well, it’s not for the average man. So you are supposed to slow down even more to 30 until miles further down the road where the next 45 sign is. If you don’t, CHA-CHING! More town revenue. My dad got caught in that one.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: FWIW, Liberty NY is a pretty famous speed trap town

i don’t remember it being here, but there was an article in the last month or so where a retired (but of course) judge made it plain that a LOT of municipal jurisdictions are DEPENDENT upon traffic fine revenue to finance their donut eaters, etc…
a true perpetual motion machine in action: write bullshit tickets to get fines, to pay for an otherwise useless police farce (sic), which is used to write more tickets to prop up a useless police dept, so they can support more ticket writers to pay for useless donut eaters, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseum…
welcome to the end times of Empire…

Anonymous Coward says:

Also Of Note

Every single word Mr. Barboza used was spelled correctly, even the ofttimes difficult “tyranny”. There might be a quibble over punctuation (some will no doubt argue that “fuck your shitty town, bitches” is the more proper form), but overall I would gives kudos to Mr. Barboza’s elementary school, where he obviously did learn about First Amendment protections. In addition to spelling, of course. Good job!

Personanongrata says:

Long Live Willian Barboza

but that the two police officers are not liable because Zangla instructed them to make the arrest.

They were only following orders like the “good” Americans they have become.

Why should the “officers” think for themselves when they have a fraction of an American like assistant district attorney Robert Zangla to think for them?


That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not just ‘includes’, it it primarily for protecting the ability to say ‘offensive things’. Because popular speech doesn’t need protecting, the idea behind free speech is to protect speech that people might not be so thrilled with, allowing the unpopular minority to speak freely even when the majority might wish otherwise.

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