In May of last year, when William Barboza (pictured) was driving through the quaint town of Liberty, N.Y., a state trooper pulled him over for speeding. Three months later, he mailed in his summons along with a payment, punctuating the ticket with a few choice curse words and crossing out the town’s name and relabeling it “TYRANNY.” Needless to say, his citation payment was rejected, and he was summoned to appear in court. As Barboza stood before a judge, he was not only chastised for having a potty mouth, but he was also arrested and charged with aggravated harassment, handcuffed to a bench, and forced to pay a $200 bond, according to the Gothamist.
Once the town clerk’s office received Barboza’s payment for the ticket and saw the words, “F**K YOUR SH*TTY TOWN, B*TCHES,” he was reportedly a marked man.
Barboza, a Connecticut resident who lives two hours away from Liberty, was ordered to make the trek back in order to face a judge. When he arrived at the town’s courthouse to attend his hearing, a judge reportedly let him have it by berating him before the courtroom for his obscene choice of words on the summons.
After Barboza was cuffed, he posted the bail on the same day. The charges against the young man were dismissed six months down the line by another judge who deemed that even though Barboza’s words were “crude, vulgar, inappropriate, and clearly intended to annoy,” they were fully protected by the First Amendment.
Now the New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Barboza’s behalf, and according to Mariko Hirose, a staff attorney for the civil rights organization, who spoke with the Gothamist, “New York’s aggravated harassment statute must be struck from the books, once and for all. No one else should have to suffer the way Mr. Barboza did.
“Indeed in 2003, the New York Court of Appeals said the statute cannot be applied to speech just because it is “crude and offensive.” And in 1997, a federal court judge found the law to be “utterly repugnant to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and also unconstitutional for vagueness.”
Meanwhile, Barboza is baffled as to why his written expression of disgruntlement with “the system” was taken to such extreme levels of punishment, “All I did was express my frustration with a ticket, and I almost ended up in jail. I want to make sure nobody else ends up in a similar situation because of this law,” contends Barboza.