Connecticut Man Arrested For Writing Obscenity On Traffic Ticket Payment Form

from the when-free-speech-costs-quite-a-bit dept

As someone who uses obscene words the way most people use commas, I always take a special interest when cursing butts up against free speech rights. After all, I certainly don't want to live in a world where I can't call some obnoxious jerk a [removed by editor] or a [removed by editor]. Such acts are the spice of life. Yet not everyone agrees, such as when courts rule against fantasy stories as obscene, or when the American public is forced to endure a half-a-second glimpse of a single nipple-less breast. Even Christmas has been rendered unsafe for the holy masses. But in none of those cases was the purveyor of salty language directing it squarely towards those who could levy judgement against them.

That honor goes to Willian Barboza, who was issued a speeding ticket last year in the Catskills town of Liberty, and chose to send a bit of a message while mailing in his guilty-plea fine when he wrote "F@#$ your sh#*$y town b&$#@es." The court decided that Barboza's admittedly witless prose was worth rejecting his payment altogether and charging him for aggravated harrassment, a strange state law that says it's a violation when someone:

“Either (a) communicates with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, by telegraph, or by mail, or by transmitting or delivering any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm …
You can see the problem already. This is about as unconstitutional a law as you could possibly write, one which seems to think that the whole first amendment doesn't exist. Hell, if annoying someone anonymously via written communication was illegal everywhere, the courts would be full of a certain percentage of Techdirt commenters. That, fortunately, is not the case (you're welcome, trolls), which is why the NYCLU filed suit on behalf of Barboza for pain, suffering and humiliation. The courts, thankfully, listened.
A municipal judge on March 22, 2013 finally dismissed the charge against Barboza, stating that while his words were “crude, vulgar, inappropriate and clearly intended to annoy,” that the First Amendment protects Barboza’s speech.

“No citation is necessary for this Court to determine that the language under the circumstances here, offensive as it is, is protected,” stated Town of Fallsburg Justice Ivan Kalter.
I don't believe the decision renders the law inactive, but it seems pretty clear that it is untenable in its own jurisdiction when judges are unwilling to rule for it. Whatever process it takes to get that clearly unconstitutional law off the books needs to begin immediately, or else Fallsburg might just be the shitty town Barboza alledges.


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 21 Jun 2013 @ 3:22am

    They will just keep this law on the books and trot it out against someone else who angers them hoping they will be frightened.

    Respect me or else laws always work out well...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dan J. (profile), 21 Jun 2013 @ 6:01am

      Re:

      I don't know why he didn't countersue under the same law. After all, a traffic ticket is a written communication and it sure annoys the hell out of me when I get one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ltlw0lf (profile), 21 Jun 2013 @ 10:43am

        Re: Re:

        I don't know why he didn't countersue under the same law. After all, a traffic ticket is a written communication and it sure annoys the hell out of me when I get one.

        You have a good point. And unlike Barboza's letter, a traffic ticket isn't protected as free speech, but is instead a formal notice of due process issued by action of the state. I don't think it would work, but it is an interesting angle on a bad law.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 3:35am

    Annoyance or Alarm

    The perfect law for counter suing a copyright troll. Their threats are certainly cause for alarm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    art guerrilla (profile), 21 Jun 2013 @ 3:40am

    now wait a minute...

    you have the font salad in quotes, so is that *exactly*, *really* what he wrote ? ? ?

    ie it wasn't 'swear', 'dirty' words at all, but nonsense words...

    does someone get arrested for hate crimes/racism if they write "the n-word" ? ? ?

    *IF* that was literally what he wrote, i don't see how they could prosecute in any way: THEY AREN'T WORDS...

    fucked up world...
    i have a strange compulsion to write them and tell them how fucked up i think they are...

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 21 Jun 2013 @ 3:42am

    Hell, if annoying someone anonymously via written communication was illegal everywhere, the courts would be full of a certain percentage of Techdirt commenters.

    Ah, I see what Mike did there. He's just collecting evidence to sue the heck out of the trolls! Evil!

    Ahem. I have to take my hat off to this guy. I think if I cursed a police officer I'd be under intensive care in the hospital next day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    RyanNerd (profile), 21 Jun 2013 @ 4:48am

    Police procedure within policy

    I'm not sure why the city didn't send 9 officers over to his house with a police dog and let him know what they thought about his annoying obscenity with their baton's... Of course the guy may have been allegedly intoxicated with a heart condition and since this didn't happen in Kern county it may not have been "within policy".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rob, 21 Jun 2013 @ 6:28am

      Re: Police procedure within policy

      Nine goons with nightsticks and a police dog is old school.

      S.W.A.T. team with body armor, automatic weapons, "less lethal" grenades and a post-driver-battering-ram is 21st century.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 5:25am

    Fallsburg. More like Failsburg! Hahahahahahaha hold on there's someone at my door.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 6:12am

    So speeding tickets are illegal then?

    They are written forms of communication and sure annoy and alarm me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 6:19am

    I'm annoyed by the president, can he be impeached for annoying me?

    I'm annoyed by the president, can he be impeached for annoying me? After all, annoying me is against the law, surely that's a high crime and misdemeanor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 6:20am

    If I ever get one of those camera tickets I am going to write "Highway Robbery" in the memo section as it is what it is!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rob, 21 Jun 2013 @ 6:22am

    Alarm or annoyance?

    Looks like someone's gas company is goin' to jail for that bill last February!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 6:22am

    and then these people will go on about how 'free' they are. Shameful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 6:23am

    I think "alledges" is a typo, but just in case it is a spelling error:

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Allege

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rob, 21 Jun 2013 @ 6:44am

    I've done this myself

    I sent in a speeding ticket to the "Scum Sucking City of L_____" and put "FOAD" in the memo line. The city court clerk sent it back with a stern matronly admonishment. The added time caused the payment to be late and resulted in additional fines.

    If I'd known back then that I could be arrested for a serious crime for doing that, and if I were already having a bad day, I might just think that I should actually commit the crime I'm gonna be charged with anyway, thus feeling I got what I paid for, and hand deliver the corrected payment to the clerk's home address, which was probably listed in the phone book at the time. Where "probably" means "definitely". Not that I'd really do that, of course. That would be mean-spirited, like refusing to cash a speeding ticket payment.

    But instead I just translated my insults into French and sent in the ticket again with more money. It was accepted that way.

    A friend working at the city later asked the clerk's judge if the clerk's actions were warranted by my "creative writing" on the check. He told her "no, she should have just cashed it."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 7:26am

    And now more tax payers will have to cover the charges because some corrupt piece of shit town disregards our birth rights.

    Fucking assholes... I swear..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 7:32am

    Many elected officials are lawyers by trade, why do they feel comfortable writing and passing laws which they know full well violate rights at both state and federal levels. Could it be that there are no repercussions for their misbehavior? Getting voted out next term is hardly incentive to not do these sorts of things and recall is hardly ever successful. Perhaps if they were fined for every bill they vote for that is found to be in violation of the bill of rights .... nah, that wouldn't work, it would become another cost of business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 8:04am

    Skin's too thin

    All this bullshit just pisses me off. An ordinance stating "in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm" is just another method of saying "we're just so damn timid, that if you upset us, we're going to try and fine you for it."

    My message to those who are so infatuated with being annoyed: if you can't take the annoyance, then find another line of work! This shit has gotten way too out of hand where if a judge/court/clerk is "annoyed," it turns into a major issue for them. SUCK IT UP and understand that for the most part, none of us give much of a shit that you're annoyed. Understand that the REST of us also get annoyed as PART OF OUR JOBS, and you just need to grow a set and take it.

    Having to pay outrageous fines along with court costs is often annoying. Spare me the "don't do the crime, then" speech, as we all well know that traffic enforcement is selective at best, a rigged game at worst, and tickets are given out per quotas (or whatever bullshit word they like to subsitute for "quota."

    /rant

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jun 2013 @ 8:18am

    why do separate states have to have separate laws anyway? the constitution is supposed to be the guiding light of USA laws but it seems it's only considered after ridiculous laws have been introduced and someone has fallen foul of them. making everywhere the same would be a reasonable start, wouldn't it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 21 Jun 2013 @ 12:28pm

      Re:

      why do separate states have to have separate laws anyway? the constitution is supposed to be the guiding light of USA laws

      And the Constitution says the states can have their own laws.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ChrisH, 21 Jun 2013 @ 1:25pm

    A municipal judge on March 22, 2013 finally dismissed the charge against Barboza, stating that while his words were “crude, vulgar, inappropriate and clearly intended to annoy,” that the First Amendment protects Barboza’s speech.
    Thank f#*k for that! Restores my faith in the legal system.

    If laws like this actually worked, we wouldn’t have spam.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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