Skip to main content

Disorderly Conduct Conviction Reversed: Court Rules Police Suppressed Political Speech

hands holding up signs and megaphonesThe Indiana Court of Appeals determined that police violated an Indianapolis woman’s right to political speech when they arrested her as she loudly criticized officers for being racist. The Court reversed the woman’s Marion County conviction for disorderly conduct.
Accusations During a Traffic Stop
A police officer pulled a woman over after running her license plate and discovering that the plate was registered to a different vehicle. The woman produced her license but immediately became belligerent when the officer asked if she had any weapons. The officer told her the question was standard procedure. The woman yelled at him, stating he was asking because she was black.
After the officer returned to his vehicle to prepare a citation, another officer arrived on the scene. A tow truck was called because the woman had a suspended license, among other reasons. The officer attempted to inform her about the citation and impound, and the woman began screaming and cursing. She stated that the officer stopped her because she was black, the officers needed religion, and they “couldn’t handle a black woman.” She also said, “Ya’ll think you run this place, and you’re giving me a citation because I’m black.”
As the screaming continued, people from nearby stores came outside to see what was going on. The officers repeatedly told her she needed to stop screaming, be quiet, and leave. The woman stated she did not need to leave, and eventually an officer told her she was under arrest. The woman was ultimately convicted of disorderly conduct for yelling and resisting law enforcement for pulling away from the arresting officers. 
What Constitutes Political Speech?
To convict a person of disorderly conduct in Indiana, the State must prove that the person recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally made unreasonable noise and continued to do so after being asked to stop.
However, political speech that comments on government action carries additional protections compared to speech concerning other matters. The State can infringe on political speech only when either 1) the State’s impairment of the political speech is slight or 2) the speech amounted to a public nuisance that caused harm to the degree of “tortious injury on readily identifiable interests.”
The State claimed that the defendant’s statements were not political speech. Even if they were, the State argued, the defendant abused her right to political speech by screaming, cursing, and making false and defamatory statements about the officers being discriminatory.
The Court rejected that argument, concluding that the defendant’s “overall complaint and the aim or focus of her statements was to criticize the actions of the police, and thus her speech was political.” The Court also determined that the State did not have the right to infringe on the defendant’s political speech because:

1)    The State’s impairment of her speech was not slight, since she was arrested.
2)    The defendant’s yelling was a mere annoyance to the people who came outside, which does not amount to “tortious injury”.
Criminal Attorneys Defend Disorderly Conduct Charges in Indiana
Speech concerning the police acting in the course of their duties is more protected than other types of speech. If you were arrested for disorderly conduct in Indiana, what you said and how you said it could have a major impact on the State’s ability to pursue a conviction against you. Gibson Law Office has defended criminal charges throughout Central Indiana for 17 years, including in Marion County, Boone County, Hendricks County, and Hamilton County. Call 855-9-GIBSON for a free initial consultation to determine if you have a viable defense in your disorderly conduct case in Indiana.