Judge: It’s Not Nice To Leave Nasty Notes On Speeding Tickets, But It’s Your Constitutional Right To Do So

No one gets a speeding ticket and rushes out to pay it with glee, at least, no one who likes holding onto their money. But even if it’s pretty rude to scrawl an obscene message when paying that ticket, it’s speech that’s protected by the First Amendment. That’s according to a judge who said a man’s civil rights were violated when he was arrested for writing a nasty note on a speeding ticket in New York in 2012.

The Connecticut man was driving in the town of Liberty, N.Y. when he received a speeding ticket for going 82 mph in a 65 mph zone, with a $175 fine attached. He sent back the payment form with a message written on it, “F**k your sh***y town, bitches,” and also crossed out the word “Liberty” and scrawled “Tyranny” in its place.

Local authorities ordered him to show up in court, where he was lectured by a judge, arrested and held for several hours on charges of aggravated harassment, reports the New York Times.

He sued the village, whose officers had arrested him, and last week a federal judge in White Plains ruled that the arrest had violated his First Amendment rights, and allowed his lawsuit to proceed.

“People use language like this all the time,” his lawyer told the Times. “They send letters like this to customer service at Verizon, the I.R.S. When people are unhappy, they vent on forms like that,” he added. “You shouldn’t have to get arrested for it.”

Judge Cathy Seibel ruled that what the man 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 it didn’t violate N.Y.’s aggrvated harassment statute.

“The words here are not inherently likely to provoke violent reaction, they were not directed at anyone in particular, and could not be interpreted as threatening any particular action,” Seibel ruled, according to the Huffington Post.

The case will ultimately be decided by jurors, with Liberty to stand trial for failing to train its police officers regarding the country’s First Amendment, and an assistant district attorney liable for damages, though Seibel dismissed the suit’s claims against the two arresting officers.

U.S. Judge Upholds Right to Scrawl Nasty Note on Speeding Ticket Payment [New York Times]
Scrawling ‘F**k Your S**tty Town Bitches’ On Speeding Ticket Is Free Speech, Judge Finds [Huffington Post]