Philadelphia (AP) - Firing off a few four-letter words can't be charged as a crime anymore in
State police have agreed to stop citing the public for cursing as part of a settlement Tuesday of a federal free-speech lawsuit.
The American Civil Liberties Union represents Pennsylvanians who have been ticketed for cursing at an overflowing toilet, a swerving motorcyclist and a parking ticket issuer.
The citations can lead to hundreds of dollars in fines and legal costs, not to mention the occasional jail stint.
"Using profanity toward someone, whether an officer or not, is just not one of those things that you can put someone in jail for," ACLU lawyer Mary Catherine Roper said Tuesday. "It may not be very smart, but you have a constitutional right to do that."
Yet state troopers issued more than 700 disorderly conduct citations for swearing in a recent one-year span, and local police hundreds more, the ACLU learned during the court case.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court years ago deemed such speech legal as long as it's neither threatening nor obscene, Roper said.
The case settled Tuesday involves Lona Scarpa, a 35-year-old
Scarpa successfully challenged the disorderly conduct ticket, which carried a $300 fine. But she also let the ACLU pursue the free-speech lawsuit.
State police have now agreed to pay $17,500 to Scarpa, her criminal lawyer and the ACLU, and to retrain officers and monitor the agency's disorderly conduct tickets. A lawyer for the department did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday.
A second ACLU lawsuit filed against a local department remains pending. That case involves an exasperated delivery driver who was briefly jailed in December 2008 for cursing at a
Matthew Walters had already gotten his car stuck in the snow in northeastern
Like Scarpa, Walters was eventually acquitted of disorderly conduct.
In perhaps the most memorable cursing case in
And the city of
"If somebody's making a threat, or pushing and shoving and fighting, that's a different thing," Roper said Tuesday. "But if people are cursing each other, you can't issue a criminal citation and subject them to hundreds of dollars in fees for bad manners."