A judge has ruled that a man arrested for writing curse words on a speeding ticket had his First Amendment free speech rights violated by police.
According to The Associated Press
, Willian Barboza of Connecticut received a speeding ticket in May 2012 while driving through a village named Liberty in upstate New York. On the payment form, he crossed out Liberty and wrote "Tyranny."
He then added the phrase, "F*** your s****y town b****es."
The clerks who received the form complained to a local judge, who referred the incident to a prosecutor. The prosecutor ordered Barboza, 22 at the time, to appear in court. Upon appearing, Barboza was charged with aggravated harassment, arrested, and released on $200 bail.
The case was dismissed in 2013 on First Amendment grounds, but this week U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel in White Plains ruled that Barboza's rights were violated when he was arrested, and that his suit for unspecified damages against Liberty could proceed.
Seibel noted that between 2003 and 2012 as many as 63 arrests by Liberty police officers occurred "because of the use of vulgar words in what may be perceived as a threatening context." One arrest, for example, occurred when a defendant called someone a slut. Another arrest occurred after someone called a cop a "pig."
Seibel took pains to point out that Liberty had not properly trained its officers.
"The village has no requirement to insure its officers are trained on the First Amendment," she said.
The trial is to include a damages phase for an involved prosecutor. Because of the nature of his actions, he will not be given immunity.
"Instead of protecting freedom of speech, government officers in Liberty handcuffed me, arrested me for a crime, and almost sent me to jail because I harmlessly expressed my frustration with a speeding ticket," Barboza said in a statement after the court date.
In speaking about his experience in Liberty, Barboza told The New York Times
, "I just wanted to ask if they had any sense of irony at all."
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