An independent speech on the “I Eat As” bumper sticker was given new life in the legal story yesterday when a federal judge ruled that the expression could violate Florida pornography laws and thus remain unprotected by the First Amendment.
At the center of the Odyssey is Florida man Dillon Shane Webb, who pulled in May 2019 after Columbia County Sheriff’s Deputy Travis took the English sticker exception. Webb refused to censor it at the scene, his car was searched and he was later arrested and jailed for “writing obscenities in a vehicle” and “resisting an officer without violence”. (Refuses to change the look of the sticker at the officer’s request to say “resistance” to the question.)
Those allegations were soon dropped, with the State Attorney’s Office quoting First Amendment.
But the U.S. District Court for the Florida Middle District ruled yesterday that the case is not so cut and dry, providing competent immunity in English and thus prosecuting Webb for violating his free speech and falsely arresting him.
“Although Webb denies that the sticker was actually obscene, in the interview he repeatedly acknowledged the sexual nature of his sticker,” wrote Judge Marcia Morales Howard. Web vs. English, “Although seen as an attempt at humor, which shows that an erotic message is more than conjecture – it can reasonably be communicated as the main message.” He added that “if the sticker depicts sexual activity, it will be protected speech under the First Amendment if it has serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” The Englishman, as well as Corporal Chad Kerby – who agreed over the phone that Dillon should be arrested – thus cannot be held responsible for their subjective decision and subsequent arrest.
Yet the law in question – Fla. Stat. § 847.011 (2), which “prohibits any sticker, decal, symbol or other device attached to a motor vehicle containing obscene descriptions, photographs or images” – unconstitutional on the face of it, according to Eugene Volkhe, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley. “This entire provision is therefore unconstitutionally illegal in the outside world and thus on his face, and thus cannot be applied to the possession of obscenity in public,” Bholakh argued in May 2019.
The doctrine of competent immunity protects certain state actors from accountability for alleged misconduct if they properly violate your rights were not explicitly identified as unconstitutional in previous court decisions. While it was only meant to protect government officials from stupid cases, it did protect them from competent authorities, including more than two dozen policemen who blew up the home of an innocent man during a SWAT raid on the wrong home, a policeman who conducted an illegal search, and Destroyed people’s cars, police who allegedly stole thousands of dollars, and police who arrested a man on false charges after an attack outside his home. Those who exceed qualified immunity do not win the resulting loss; They only get a chance to make their claim before the jury.
This is not the first time there has been a case of immunity from being accused of violating the First Amendment. In March, a federal court ruled that Denver police had definitely violated a person’s First Amendment rights when they forced him to delete a video of a suspect being beaten. The same court also granted the officers immunity because, although the officers were guilty of violating men’s rights, those rights were not “clearly established” at the time, the ruling said.
And this doctrine does not only apply to the police: college administrators at Arkansas State University received qualified immunity after hamstring a student from recruitment for a conservative political advocacy group. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, strongly condemning Justice Clarence Thomas.
Ironically, there Was A judgment that can help the web. Nives vs. BartlettA 2019 Supreme Court ruling said officers could “be held accountable if there is a probable reason for their arrest, but usually if they do not exercise discretion.” One would guess that this applies here, where the officer must have exercised his discretion so as not to be arrested on a bumper sticker.
Yet in a fitting demonstration of how perfect the doctrine of immunity is, Judge Howard noted that the Supreme Court had handed down that special decision for three weeks. Later Web arrest. “As such,” he wrote, “until the date of Webb’s arrest, the right to be released from retaliatory arrest that was otherwise supported by probable cause was not explicitly established.”