State Police Won't Charge You For Cursing
In new agreement with ACLU, troopers can't issue citations for 4-letter words
The Pennsylvania State Police has agreed to stop citing individuals for cursing as part of a settlement it reached Tuesday with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
In exchange, the ACLU, which issued a news release touting the settlement, has agreed to drop a federal lawsuit against the state's largest law enforcement agency.
Through a Right-to-Know request, the ACLU learned that the state police issued more than 750 disorderly conduct citations for using profanity during one recent year. In the lawsuit, the ACLU argued that profanity and even profane gestures are protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"This will affect millions of Pennsylvanians for whom the state police provide the only law enforcement," said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney for the state ACLU, through the news release.
"Besides being a waste of police resources, these types of citations are often used by police to 'punish' people who argue with them. We are very happy the state police will proactively address the problem."
As part of the settlement, the state police have agreed to notify its personnel that they can no longer issue citations for the use of offensive words or gestures, even if they are directed at them, the news release said.
The agency also agreed to revise its current training regarding First Amendment rights and the difference between what is considered legally obscene and protected free speech.
Also, state police supervisors will be directed to review all disorderly conduct citations issued during the next two years to ensure that the new policy is being followed, the release said. The agency is also paying $17,500 in damages and attorney costs.
The lawsuit was filed in May on behalf of Lona Scarpa of Mocanaqua in Luzerne County. In October 2008, she reported to troopers that as she walked through her town, a motorcyclist who knew her swerved at her as if to hit her and shouted an insult as he rode by. Scarpa told police she called the motorcyclist an "asshole."
Subsequently, the trooper did not just cite the motorcyclist, but also mailed a disorderly conduct citation to Scarpa, for which she could have faced a $300 fine and 90 days in jail. Scarpa challenged her conviction and won before a District Judge.