[Rushtalk] No Joke: Man Jailed for Laughing in Own Home

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at verizon.net
Wed Mar 20 21:13:56 MDT 2013


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Liberty and Justice for All: News and Analysis on the Rule of

MARCH 20, 2013

No Joke: Man Jailed for Laughing in Own Home

A Long Island man is 
<http://links.heritage.org/ct/11913905:14949365583:m:1:160880985:2DAED96F7BF9908F43BBE2F37E26E1AE:r>facing 
30 days in jail for laughing in his own home, 
according to 
<http://links.heritage.org/ct/11913906:14949365583:m:1:160880985:2DAED96F7BF9908F43BBE2F37E26E1AE:r>The 
Huffington Post.

Forty-two year-old Robert Schiavelli, who suffers 
from a mental disability, was cited twice for 
“disturbing the peace” due to his loud laughter.
What was he laughing at? Allegedly, Schiavelli’s 
neighbor regularly calls him derogatory names and 
as a way of dealing with the taunts, Schiavelli laughs them off.

Underlying most bad prosecutions are bad 
statutes. That is exactly the case here. 
Schiavelli was charged with acting “in such a 
manner as to annoy, disturb, interfere with, 
obstruct, or be offensive to others.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that using 
“annoyance” as a factual basis for a criminal 
charge is unconstitutional. 
<http://links.heritage.org/ct/11913907:14949365583:m:1:160880985:2DAED96F7BF9908F43BBE2F37E26E1AE:r>Coates 
v. Cincinnati held that the term “annoy” is 
unconstitutionally vague and is a violation of the First Amendment, stating:

Conduct that annoys some people does not annoy 
others. Thus, the ordinance is vague not in the 
sense that it requires a person to conform his 
conduct to an imprecise but comprehensible 
normative standard, but rather in the sense that 
no standard of conduct is specified at all.

As a result, “men of common intelligence must 
necessarily guess at [the] meaning” of annoyance.

It would be different if Schiavelli were being 
cited under a neutral noise ordinance, but here, 
the law he is charged with having violated makes 
no mention of the level of noise.

The local judge in the case has stated that he is 
“not so inclined” to dismiss it. Here, there is 
an unconstitutionally vague statute and harmless 
behavior. Common sense dictates that this is not 
something that should put someone in jail.
When asked about the citations, Schiavelli said, 
“I didn’t know it was a crime to laugh out a window.” A very sensible answer.

Do you still think you aren’t at risk of becoming 
a criminal? If you can go to jail for laughing in 
your own home, is there anything you can’t go to jail for?

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you outraged? Share this story and speak up 
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