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Monday, March 31, 2014

Law - "In These Towns, Being Annoying Is a Criminal Offense"

Joe Palazzolo of the WSJ had a long story March 28th; the subhead: "Dozens of cities and states have passed strictures that equate 'annoying' with 'illegal.'" Several of the cases discussed are from Indiana:

Rodregus Morgan, 52 years old, was arrested in Indiana, where a 2012 public-intoxication law made a criminal of anyone who, while drunk in a public place, "harasses, annoys, or alarms another person."

A police officer smelled alcohol on his breath and deemed him annoying after Mr. Morgan ignored requests to leave the bus shelter in which he had fallen asleep, according to court records.

"I wasn't being annoying," Mr. Morgan said. "I was waiting for the bus."

A state appeals court threw out his public-intoxication conviction in February, ruling that the word "annoy" covered a "vast array of human behavior" that wasn't clearly defined.

Deputy Attorney General George P. Sherman disagreed, saying anybody with "ordinary intelligence" knows what is annoying.

"A reasonable person would readily understand that it is annoying for a person to be passed out drunk in a public bus stop," he wrote in a March court brief asking the state's highest court to hear the case.

Dozens of cities and states have passed strictures that equate "annoying" with "illegal," adding to an already existing stock of aging laws that employ the word. According to Municode, an online database of local laws, "annoy" or some variation appears in more than 5,000 ordinances.

Many of these pass constitutional muster, because they spell out the things that irritate to the point of illegality, such as unreasonably loud music, honking, shouting, fighting and pets that near-constantly bark or yowl. * * *

Wayne Brant and his mother, Betty Wilson, who live together in Indianapolis, were found to have violated a city ordinance that makes it unlawful for a person to keep animals that cause "serious annoyance or disturbance to persons in the vicinity."

Their neighbor was seriously annoyed by the occasional barking of Ms. Wilson's dachshunds and called the police.

Mother and son were cited for a noise violation. It wasn't just a small fine at stake. The dogs could have been impounded if Mr. Brant and Ms. Wilson received a second citation.

They appealed their case in 2012 and won.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled that a complaint from just one neighbor was insufficient to support the violation, because the ordinance's language requires that more than one person be seriously annoyed.

"You get a person who has a low threshold for being annoyed with noise, and that spells trouble," said Karen Celestino-Horseman, an Indianapolis lawyer who represented Mr. Brant and Ms. Wilson. They declined to comment.

The first case mentioned is Rodregus Morgan v. State of Indiana, a Feb. 13, 2014 COA opinion (3rd case). Here is the Sept. 12, 2012 COA opinion in Wayne Brant v. City of Indianapolis.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 31, 2014 08:35 AM
Posted to General Law Related