A 22 year-old from Connecticut wrote an extremely rude message filled with profanity on a NY speeding ticket that he was issued in the Catskills. Aside from insulting the town that issued the ticket and cursing, he crossed out the name of the town, Liberty, and wrote “Tyranny” on the ticket. He pled guilty and submitted his ticket (profanity-laced and all) along with his payment.Rude Speeder Gets in Big Trouble
His payment was rejected by the court and, instead, he was order
ed to make the 2 hour trek and appear in person for his court date.
At the hearing, the judge chastised the driver for his foul language and overt rudeness. The driver was charged with violating New York’s aggravated harassment law, handcuffed, and arrested. Afterward, the driver was booked, fingerprinted, handcuffed to a bench and forced to pay $200 bail.
Currently, the driver has filed a suit in federal court seeking a clear determination that New York’s aggravated harassment statute is unconstitutional and that his First Amendment right to free expression was violated.
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is representing the driver and suing for damages due to pain, suffering, and humiliation.
According to the driver, “No one should get arrested for speech … All I did was express my frustration with a ticket and I almost ended up in jail. I want to make sure nobody else ends up in a similar situation because of this law.”
According to the statute he was charged under:
“A person is guilty of aggravated harassment in the second degree when, with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person, he or she: … 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.”
Although police continue to enforce the statute, several court rulings have cast tremendous doubt on its constitutionality.
In 2003, the NYCLU won a federal court case that declared the statute unconstitutional as applied to speech that was merely annoying or alarming. The opinion of the court warned that “state and local police officers and prosecutors would be well-advised … to cease arrests and prosecutions under this section.”
Additionally, the New York Court of Appeals—the state’s highest court—ruled in 2003 that the statute cannot be applied to speech just because it is “crude and offensive.” In 1997, a federal court judge found the law to be “utterly repugnant to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and also unconstitutional for vagueness.”
In March 22, 2013, the aggravated harassment charge against the driver was dismissed. The municipal judge presiding over the case noted that even though his words were “crude, vulgar, inappropriate and clearly intended to annoy,” the First Amendment protected his speech.