Friday, June 24, 2005
After watching a television show last night where a male stripper, dressed up as a cop, was shot at when he knocked on a hotel room door that he thought belonged to a paying client, but actually belonged to drug dealers, I was wondering if states can outlaw civilians wearing police insignia. Little did I know that the Florida Supreme Court had just decided the issue.
From the Associated Press: "Without an intent to deceive, it is not a crime to wear an "NYPD" hat or other law enforcement insignia, uniforms or T-shirts printed with such words as "police," "sheriff" and "trooper," the Florida Supreme Court said Thursday. The high court, in a 5-2 opinion, struck down Florida's law against wearing or clothing, badges or other criminal justice markings because it is "unconstitutionally overbroad, vague and violates substantive due process." The maximum punishment was a year in jail. "The word `police' on a shirt could mean support for the police, as has been widely seen on clothing in support of the New York Police Department following September 11, 2001," Justice Charles Wells wrote. It also could be used to express a constitutionally protected negative opinion about police conduct, while the word "sheriff" could have a political meaning when worn to promote candidates for that office, he added. Wells noted the law lacks any provision on intent. Therefore, it bans "innocent wearing and displaying of specified words" and "is not tailored toward the legitimate public purpose of prohibiting conduct intended to deceive," he wrote. Chief Justice Barbara Parmiente and Justices Harry Lee Anstead, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince concurred. Justice Raoul Cantero and Kenneth Bell dissented. "I fear that today the Court has stripped law enforcement agencies of one important weapon in their battle against crime," Cantero wrote. "I only hope that the Legislature acts quickly to fill the void." The opinion, not final pending a possible request for reconsideration, resolves conflicting lower court decisions. Kimberly Sult was arrested at a convenience store in 2001 for wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "Pinellas County Sheriff's Office." She was convicted by a jury and ordered to pay $300 in fines and court costs. The 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld her conviction and the law. The 3rd District Court of Appeal, however, in 2003 ruled the law unconstitutional and reversed the conviction in South Florida of motorcyclist Alberto Rodriguez for wearing a shirt with "Police" on it. The law specifically banned the wearing of clothing with the words "police," "patrolman," "agent," "sheriff," "deputy," "trooper," "highway patrol," "wildlife officer," "marine patrol officer," "state attorney, "public defender," "marshal," "constable" and "bailiff." [Mark Godsey]