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Former Traffic Court Judge Serving New York and New Jersey

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Woman freed after spending 10 days in jail for cursing over traffic violation

What started with an attempt to pay $50 for a traffic violation ended with an Indiana woman being sent to jail for cursing to herself. This rather unusual story has a happy ending, though, with the woman freed from jail and the contempt charges against her dropped.

It all began when the woman, who has a master's degree in social work and no criminal history, wanted to clear out some old unpaid traffic tickets back on December 18. She had already paid $444 for the tickets but then found out she had to pay an additional $50 for a reinstatement fee that the court clerk's office had overlooked.

As she left the court clerk's office, feeling frustrated about the obstacles she had encountered in trying to clear out the tickets, she started cursing to herself.

When she returned later with the $50, a judge ordered her arrested for her earlier cursing.

She was held in contempt of court and spent 10 days in jail until an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer filed an emergency appeal on her behalf, claiming that her First Amendment rights of free speech had been violated.

The appeal was ultimately successful, and the charges against her were dropped on the grounds that the court staff had not followed the correct procedures.

"If free speech means anything it means that you have the right to express yourself even when you are upset at the government," said the ACLU lawyer. "If we arrest everyone who has ever been frustrated and used foul language, there would be more people in jail than walking our streets."

It's truly shocking to think that a person could actually be thrown in jail for nearly two weeks -- and over the Christmas holiday no less -- for something as trivial as cursing to themselves. If anything, this case clearly demonstrates how a skilled attorney can become an invaluable ally during otherwise difficult times.

Stay tuned for more from our New York vehicle traffic law blog ...

If you have been issued a traffic violation, fight to keep your driving privileges and your insurance premiums as low as possible. Consider contacting an attorney who understands New York's confusing legal system, and who can help you evaluate your options and make the right decisions.

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Sources:

The Kalamazoo Gazette, "Woman jailed for cursing in Berrien County Clerk's Office has charges against her dropped," Anthony Smigiel, Jan. 11, 2013

The Herald-Palladium, "Ind. woman jailed for cursing released," Debra Haight, Dec. 29, 2012

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