First Amendment Freedom of Profanity and Accompanying “Gestures” – Even Towards Police

The First Amendment protects a Utah residents rights to speak their opinions and frustrations, even by the use of profanity and accompanying gestures during dealings with police.

Photo by: John Nakamura Remy

First Amendment

The First Amendment to the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The phrase “freedom of speech” gets thrown around a lot, yet many citizens may wonder exactly how free they can be with their speech, especially when dealing with police.

Profanity

Many individuals would not want to participate in a verbal altercation with a police officer, yet some may blurt out profanity or obscenities before thinking of the possible consequences. Fortunately, freedom of speech protects a person’s right to use profanity, whether spoken or nonverbal like the use of the middle finger. When a Utah resident is dealing with police, there is a good chance that emotions will be running high.

Photo by: Ron Bennetts

Someone facing an arrest or feeling like they were the recipient of a biased traffic stop might have some choice words for attending officers. Perhaps they were able to bite their tongue but couldn’t help flipping the bird toward less than friendly police. Or maybe a person’s normal vocabulary is similar to that of a sailors and using obscenities is just how they communicate with everyone. Regardless of why someone would use profanity with police, it might make officers uncomfortable but it is protected free speech.

Don’t take it too far

While everyone should feel free enough to use whatever language they want or give the middle finger when they feel like it, there are times when profanities and other obscenities could cross the line. If someone uses their harsh language to try to get others to join in a fight against officers, that could be considered disorderly conduct or inciting a riot. Another example is if the foul language being used describes sexual behavior against children that most people would find offensive or disturbing. In these and like incidents, using profanity could end with criminal charges.

Spoken crimes

Photo by: Jennifer Moo

There are some words and phrases beyond profanities that are also not protected under the First Amendment. Some of these include:
Threats of violence – Utah Code 76-5-107 warns residents that verbally “[threatening] to commit any offense involving bodily injury, death, or substantial property damage, and [acting] with intent to place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury, substantial bodily injury, or death” . . . is punishable as a class B misdemeanor.
Threats of terrorism – Utah Code 76-5-107.3 explains that “a person commits a threat of terrorism if the person threatens to commit any offense involving bodily injury, death, or substantial property damage, and: threatens the use of a [real or hoax] weapon of mass destruction . . . “ A verbal threat of that magnitude is a second degree felony.
Harassment – Harassing another person or as Utah Code 76-5-106 defines as “. . . with intent to frighten or harass another, [when the actor] communicates a written or recorded threat to commit any violent felony” is a class B misdemeanor.
Obstruction of Justice – According to Section 76-8-306, “An actor commits obstruction of justice if the actor, . . . inten[ds] to hinder, delay, or prevent the investigation, apprehension, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of any person regarding conduct that constitutes a criminal offense”. A couple ways someone could use their words to obstruct justice is by warning a suspect of police activity or by providing false information to law enforcement. Obstruction of justice is charged one degree less than the crime for which the person is obstructing.

Use freedom of speech wisely

Not all talking points or usage of profanities are protected free speech, but the First Amendment can help those who have a tendency to run their mouth when talking to law enforcement. If someone is facing charges due to their use of profanity when dealing with police or if they crossed the legal line with their words, it is best to consult with a criminal defense attorney before attempting to play the free speech card.

Man Offering Tweens Candy Arrested for Disorderly Conduct

A Utah man was arrested in St. George last week for disorderly conduct after attempting to lure some tweens by offering them candy.

Stranger danger

Photo by: Phillip Male

Last week a southern Utah mom made a Facebook plea to residents to be on the lookout for a guy who behaved in a creepy manner toward her daughter and a few of her friends. According to the mom’s post, the man approached the tweens as they were walking and offered them candy to which they declined. He then invited them to join him at a party which was also countered with a “no”. It was then that a mother of one of the girls pulled up and asked the individual to leave the girls alone.

Creepy to criminal

Up to this point, all the individual had done was offer the girls candy and an invite to a party. Although this is creepy and inappropriate behavior, nothing about it was against the law. When the mom got involved, the man became notably irritated. He then proceeded to yell at her, violently strike her vehicle hood with his fist before throwing a bag of candy into her car and taking off. It was at this point that his behavior transition from creepy to criminal.

Disorderly conduct

Police were able to locate and apprehend 41 year old Jeffrey Lambert who was booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility on a variety of charges including disorderly conduct. Utah Code 76-9-102 states: “A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if . . . intending to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, the person:

(i) Engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous, or threatening behavior;
(ii) Makes unreasonable noises in a public place;
(iii) Makes unreasonable noises in a private place which can be heard in a public place; or
(iv) Obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic in a public place. . .

Disorderly conduct is a class C misdemeanor if the offense continues after a request by a person to desist. Otherwise it is an infraction.”

Defamation of accused

While the behavior of Lambert toward the tweens was questionable, the community had already identified him publicly prior to his arrest. Not only did the community jump in the find the suspect, they also made public assumptions that proved to be not entirely correct. While Lambert did offer the girls candy, he did not lace it with drugs as many presumed. Additionally, speculations had arisen as to what his intentions were. While many can guess, only those investigating the case will know for sure. The community is encouraged to not publicly burn someone at the stake but instead let the individual face their charges in a court of law. Anyone who does otherwise and publicly slanders a suspect could face their own charges of criminal defamation. For more information on criminal charges and defamation that could arise prior to or during a case, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Nothing Funny about Clowns Who Make Violent Threats toward Schools

Clowns can either be frightening or humorous but most everyone agrees there is nothing funny about them when violent threats toward schools are made. As disturbing as it may be, are any laws actually being broken?

Common fear

violent threats by clowns

Photo by: taymtaym

Being afraid of clowns is a very common fear, with numerous kids and adults sharing a mutual apprehension about the wigged entertainers with painted faces and tricks up their sleeves. The term for this phobia is Coulrophobia, meaning an abnormal fear of clowns. Several horror-based books and movies play on this phobia as well as many haunted houses which just so happen to be increasing in popularity this time of year. Although many people poke fun or crack jokes regarding this fear of clowns, it stops being comical for everyone when the public actually fears for their safety.

The clown epidemic

In August, there were reports of a clown who was trying to lure children into a wooded area near an apartment complex in Greenville, South Carolina. Following this incident, other disturbing clown sightings started popping up around the nation, including here in Utah in cities from Ogden down to St. George. Most instances are nothing more than clowns in abnormal locations or settings who stare at people creepily, making bystanders nervous. Other instances however have taken it too far by making violent threats directed toward Utah schools.

Violent threats lead to school lock downs

So far none of the violent threats to schools have turned into any dangerous situations. Regardless however, schools and law enforcement have to follow certain protocols in the event of violent threats toward the kids at school. Part of this protocol involves putting the threatened schools on lock down. This causes undue stress for the teachers, students, and parents. It can also end in criminal charges for those clowns involved.

Clown crimes

Photo by: William Gray

Photo by: William Gray

While many clown acts can appear so corny a person might wish they were outlawed, there is nothing wrong or illegal with dressing like a circus performer. Seeing a random clown on the street may seem bizarre if it is not yet Halloween or the person isn’t headed to a child’s birthday party, but there isn’t anything illegal about the person simply dressing “differently”. As long as the person isn’t breaking any laws, they are free to dress in whatever clothes they desire with their face painted as colorful as they wish. If a clown decides to chase children or make violent threats towards a school, that is a different story. Those actions will result in criminal charges such as:

Disorderly conduct. A person dressed up as a clown is allowed to stand or walk along a street just as any other resident is but if they chase after kids they can be arrested for disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor. In this regards, disorderly conduct is defined by Utah Code 76-9-102 as “intending to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, ( . . . ) the person: engages in ( . . . ) threatening behavior.” Kids or adults with or without a clown phobia would most likely feel threatened if they were randomly chased by a scary clown.

Stalking. If a clown chooses to target a person by repeatedly either following them, showing up at their home or work, or otherwise as Utah Code 76-5-106.5 states: “intentionally or knowingly engag[ing] in a course of conduct directed a specific person and knows or should know that the course of conduct would cause a reasonable person: to fear for the person’s own safety ( . . . ) or to suffer other emotional duress”, they can be arrested for stalking, a class A misdemeanor.

Making violent threats. One of the most disturbing things being done by these creepy clowns is the numerous violent threats towards schools across the country. Many of these threats to schools are being made anonymously through social media which thanks to the internet is quickly spreads to students, teachers, and parents, causing widespread panic as well as using up valuable law enforcement resources. Utah Code 76-5-107 warns that if a person “commits a threat of violence [by] the person threaten[ing] to commit any offense involving bodily injury, death, or substantial property damage, ( . . . ), it is a class B misdemeanor” whether or not the threat was expressed or implied. If that person or clown makes a threat of using a weapon of mass destruction, that can be seen as a terrorist threat.

Dangerous for all involved

Photo by: Steven Sanchez

Photo by: Steven Sanchez

While some may see these clown pranks as amusing, it is causing residents to fear for their safety while possibly increasing the danger for those dressed as clowns. The public has already expressed a desire to use force against any clown that makes them feel threatened. With a large majority of the Utah population having concealed carry permits, this may prove a danger for all clowns on Utah streets. The clown pranksters are encouraged for their own safety to refrain from further threatening behavior or plan on seeking legal counsel if caught.