[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
30 days in jail for laughing in his own home,
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, Schiavellis
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.
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 didnt know it was a crime to laugh out a window. A very sensible answer.
Do you still think you arent at risk of becoming
a criminal? If you can go to jail for laughing in
your own home, is there anything you cant go to jail for?
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the rest of the story >>
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