Judge: Yes, You Can Swear at Town When Paying Fine

Profanity-filled missive falls within First Amendment realm, judge rules
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 16, 2015 10:02 AM CDT

(Newser) – You'd figure a town called Liberty would be filled with advocates of free speech. But authorities in the upstate New York town weren't pleased when a 22-year-old man who had received a speeding ticket in 2012 mailed in his payment—along with the word "Tyranny" scrawled next to a crossed-out "Liberty," as well as a note that said "f--k your sh---y town b----es," the New York Daily News reports. Officials rejected Willian Barboza's payment, ordered him to travel from his Connecticut home back to Liberty for a court appearance, and arrested him on an "aggravated harassment" charge when he got there, per the New York Times. He was even fingerprinted and handcuffed to a police station bench for a few hours. Barboza sued, and last week a White Plains judge ruled that his First Amendment rights had been violated and that his lawsuit could go forward, the Times reports.

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In court papers, per the Times, Barboza's lawyers accused the town of having a rep for busting people who spoke out using vulgar language. "People use language like this all the time," one of Barboza's lawyers said. "They send letters like this to customer service at Verizon, the IRS." The federal court also ruled that the village has to go to trial for claims it hasn't trained officers properly to deal with First Amendment incidents. "New Yorkers should not be afraid to protest or complain about a speeding ticket—or any other government action—because they might be dragged to jail," an NYCLU attorney says in a New York Civil Liberties Union press release. "(A judge warned a UK man he could go to jail for life for swearing.)

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