First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
 
Supreme Court won't hear dispute over cursing at cops

By The Associated Press
05.03.04

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, sidestepping a dispute over cussing, refused today to consider whether a Montana man's foul language to a law enforcement officer was free speech protected by the Constitution.

The man, Malachi Robinson, was walking down the street about midnight four years ago when he called the Missoula county deputy in a nearby squad car a "(expletive) pig." The deputy got out and confronted Robinson, who uttered another expletive at the officer.

His swearing earned Robinson a $50 fine for disorderly conduct. He also was sentenced to 10 days in jail, but the judge suspended that.

Today the justices declined without comment to review his appeal in Robinson v. Montana. Their refusal does not address the merits of the issue.

By declining to hear Robinson's appeal, justices left undisturbed a Montana Supreme Court ruling that unprovoked utterances are not protected.

"The First Amendment ought to protect citizens who criticize officials, even if it's in a crude manner, as long as there was no threat involved," Robinson's attorney, Jeffrey Fisher of Seattle, said in an interview.

Fisher said while the comments may have been "crude, obnoxious and offensive," they did not rise to the level of threatening "fighting words" unprotected by the First Amendment.

Fisher said courts around the country are divided over what constitutes "fighting words," and that without clarification from the Supreme Court some people could be unfairly targeted.

"Officers whether consciously or not may selectively arrest some people for using profanity toward them, while turning the other cheek with respect to others," Fisher told justices in a court filing. "This is not an acceptable way to administer criminal law, especially where free speech concerns are at stake."

A criminal lawyers' group urged the Court to hear the case of Robinson, who did not have enough money to pay the standard fees in his Supreme Court appeal.

The conviction stigmatizes Robinson and also stands in the way of his job opportunities, Washington lawyer Katherine Fallow, representing the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told justices.

The state of Montana did not file a response to the Supreme Court appeal.


Previous
Cussing at cop can be a crime, rules Montana high court
Justices vote 5-2 that obscene language likely to provoke violence can bring an arrest for disorderly conduct. 12.22.03

Related

Federal judge: Man's rants at cop were lawful

Court upholds West Virginia man's claim that police officer falsely arrested him in retaliation for cursing. 05.22.04

Indiana appeals court: Cursing at cop was protected speech
Unanimous panel overturns teen's juvenile conviction for disorderly conduct, finding that comments only annoyed police and didn't cause real harm. 05.27.05

Man's curses crossed the line, Conn. appeals court rules
Judges uphold Gregory Gaymon's breach-of-peace conviction, saying tirade against probation officers was inflammatory enough to be considered a threat. 06.20.06

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print


Last system update: Thursday, November 13, 2008 | 17:34:57
 SEARCH  MORE
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
Video/RSS/podcasts
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment
reports

First Reports
Supreme Court
Experts
Columnists
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Glossary
Freedom Singsā„¢
Events
First Amendment
Schools

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment
Library

Lesson plans
freedomforum.org
Newseum
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links