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.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.
“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.