Tuesday, September 27, 2005

From the Legal Department

There is a new decision from the Michigan Court of Appeals that will be welcome news to all members of the RRCC. We will print the full opinion and store it permanently in the map case so we can educate local law enforcement about the change if needed. It should also be good news for the legal status of the secret motto: "F. F. B. D."

Cussing Canoeist Wins Free Speech Challenge

DETROIT, - A Michigan court on Monday overturned the conviction of a man dubbed the "cussing canoeist," ruling an obscure 105-year-old state law barring swearing in front of women and children unconstitutional. The case involved Timothy Boomer, a Detroit-area computer programmer who was charged with the crime while on a canoeing trip in Arenac County,about 125 miles (190 km) north of Detroit. Prosecutors said Boomer yelled the "f-word" as many as 75 times after he fell out of his canoe on the remote Rifle River. 40 yards behind Mr. Boomer and his party of five canoes was a family — father, mother, two very small children. The mother testified that she had to cover the ears of her 2-year-old.

Shortly after Boomer's outburst, he and his friends rounded a bend and noticed three sheriff's deputies on the river bank staring at them with binoculars. As Boomer's friends sat in their boats, one of the deputies handed him a misdemeanor citation. The charge: violation of Michigan Statute Section 337 which reads "Indecent, etc., language in presence of women or children -- Any person who shall use any indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." The crime carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $100 fine.

The case attracted national attention, pitting free speech advocates against supporters of stronger curbs on offensive language. "(Author Charles) Dickens said 'the law is an ass,' and in this case the law is asinine in attempting to criminally prosecute a man who wanted to apologize for uttering some cuss words after falling in a river," says Larry Dubin, a professor at the University of Detroit-Mercy Law School. But Assistant Prosecutor Richard Vollbach said that his office had no choice but to take the case to court. "Mr. Boomer wasn't expressing any thoughts or ideas at the time. Certainly this couldn't be considered artistic, so I don't think there was First Amendment coverage for what he did that day," Vollbach says. Boomer was found guilty after a district court judge refused to dismiss the case, arguing there was a compelling community interest in "protecting the morality of our children." But the Michigan Court of Appeals on Monday said the law was too vague. "Allowing a prosecution where one utters 'insulting' language could possibly subject a vast percentage of the populace to a misdemeanor conviction," the three judges wrote in their unanimous opinion.

In recent weeks, as the lawyers have haggled over the First Amendment, Boomer has been alarmed to discover his name invoked as an example of the linguistic excesses of an entire generation. In Arizona, Boomer's uncle attended a church sermon and the pastor mentioned Boomer's case as an example of how vulgar today's youth had become. Instead of cursing, the pastor intoned, young people should learn to say "Amen." Several weeks ago, a news crew from CBS flew to Michigan to talk to Boomer for a story on the proliferation of foul language in America. The piece is tentatively scheduled to air in February. Boomer's parents are somewhat baffled by the whole controversy. Timothy Boomer Sr., who runs a house-cleaning business in West Bloomfield Township, said his son is a decent, hard-working kid who had never been in trouble in his life. Besides, even if his son did curse in public, is it really such a crime? "When I was younger," the father said, "I was a little crazy too."
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RRCC members use protected speech
after a capsize on the Duck River.

May, 2005

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1 comment:

Kirly said...

It was really more of a swamping