A Denver metro area city abandoned efforts to criminally prosecute a high school student based upon comments allegedly directed toward a neighbor after the ACLU of Colorado asserted that the prosecution was patently unconstitutional. The teenager was riding home on the school bus when he saw a neighbor allowing her dog to defecate in his lawn. According to the police reports, he then asked that she get the dog off of the lawn using a mild expletive. For what was at worst a rude comment, the city police department responded by slapping the young man with a ticket for harassment.
ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Taylor Pendergrass noted, “There is absolutely no question that the First Amendment protects our right speak freely and openly, even in those instances where some might find the speech to be rude or offensive. It has long been recognized that the proper response to speech that one finds disagreeable is more speech and debate. The Constitution does not allow government officials to censor, criminalize or prosecute ideas or speech simply because they don’t like it.”
The student’s father noted that his opportunity to talk as a parent to his son about the appropriateness of the comment was significantly disrupted when the city decided to make his son’s comments a matter for the criminal justice system. After the ACLU of Colorado wrote the city regarding the constitutional rights of the student, the charge was dismissed.
As the student’s father later wrote to the ACLU of Colorado, “Thank you for your intervention in this case. Your service is vital to upholding the constitutional rights we possess as US citizens, and I applaud your efforts and dedication to the law, which in these times, seems to be a matter of money and power.”
Taylor Pendergrass , ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney
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