17 February 2015

If an arrestee yells "F--k the police!" in empty, rural Pennsylvania, does anyone hear him?

Here's a gem from the Court Summaries section of the most recent Pennsylvania Bar News:
Evidence insufficient for disorderly conduct conviction, unreasonable noise, 18 Pa.C.S. 5503(a)(2), when defendant yelled at police alongside rural highway out of hearing of any residential community or neighborhood and no evidence any member of public heard him.
Got that? The police stopped the defendant for something and among the charges filed were the "making an unreasonable noise" definition of disorderly conduct. And not only charged them with that, but won a conviction, even though the interaction took place in the middle of nowhere and nobody, outside of the participants, could have possibly heard the commotion.

The situation involved the defendant illegally dumping some trash. The rubbish included an American flag, so of course the charges also included a violation of Pennsylvania's wildly unconstitutional (but as yet unchallenged) anti-desecration law for good measure. During the arrest, defendant started yelling all kinds of ridiculous, insulting things at the cops. But, Superior Court writes, if a person yells ridiculous, insulting things in Outer Stickville, Pennsylvania, and nobody actually hears it, has he truly made a sound at all (PDF)?

So, cheers to Superior Court for properly tossing this conviction. That said, jeers to Superior Court for giving the police step-by-step instructions for how they should have properly charged the defendant instead (see Footnote 3).

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