Justices said the First Amendment protects citizens against prosecution when they exercise their constitutional right to speak and to criticize certain governmental activities.
SEATTLE — The Washington Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a citizen has the First Amendment right to call police abusive names and yell profanity while they’re investigating a crime.
The court threw out the conviction of a juvenile, identified only by the initials E.J.J., who yelled at officers while they tried to take his intoxicated sister into custody.
“While E.J.J.’s words may have been disrespectful, discourteous and annoying, they are nonetheless constitutionally protected,” Associate Chief Justice Charles Johnson wrote for the six-justice majority. When citizens exercise their right to criticize “how the police are handling a situation, they cannot be concerned about risking a criminal conviction for obstruction.”
Chief Justice Barbara Madsen concurred with that ruling, but said the conviction should be dismissed on different grounds. She said obstruction charges are “used disproportionately to arrest people of color,” so the court should add a common law requirement that says if the officer’s conduct substantially contributes to the escalation of the situation, the obstruction charge should be dismissed.
Police responded to a report of an out-of-control juvenile woman. As they took her from the house, E.J.J. thought he saw one officer pull out a nightstick. He stood in the doorway and yelled at the officers not to use it on his sister. Officers ordered him to go into the house and close the door, but he kept yelling. After he yelled profanity, police arrested him on a charge of obstructing a law enforcement officer.
The justices said the First Amendment protects citizens against prosecution when they exercise their constitutional right to speak and to criticize certain governmental activities