Florida drops charges involving profane bumper sticker

Friday, November 19, 1999

Florida state attorneys have dismissed charges against a woman for violating a state law prohibiting obscene bumper stickers.

In September, a state trooper stopped Laura Elizabeth Barron for a traffic offense. During the stop, the officer noticed Barron’s bumper sticker stating “F— you, you f—— f—.” The officer then charged her with violating the obscene bumper sticker law.

Barron contended in legal papers that the bumper sticker was “a form of protest against traffic conditions on the roads” and a message “against tailgaters.”

A hearing was scheduled today in State v. Barron. However, on Nov. 18 prosecutors filed papers dismissing the charges.

“The dismissal is a victory for my client and the First Amendment,” Ms. Barron’s attorney Lawrence Walters said in a news release. “It is obvious that the state knew that they would lose the case if it went in front of the judge on Friday and therefore dismissed the charges before the judge could rule.

Walters had argued in a motion to dismiss that the bumper sticker could not be classified as legally obscene because it “could in no way conjure up a sexual image” and “could hardly be understood to appeal to the ‘prurient interest’ in sex.”

Obscene materials, which receive no First Amendment protection, are those materials which appeal predominantly to the prurient or lustful interest, describe sexual matters in a patently offensive way and have no serious artistic, literary or political value.

Walters cited the famous 1971 U.S. Supreme Court case of Cohen v. California as the precedent for assigning Barron’s bumper sticker the status of protected speech. In Cohen, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the conviction of a man charged with disturbing the peace for wearing a jacket with the words “F— the Draft” into a courthouse. “One man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric,” the high court wrote.

“My client intends to proudly continue displaying the bumper sticker on her car as an expression of free-speech rights,” Walters said. “At this point, Ms. Barron is deciding whether to file a civil rights complaint against the Florida Highway Patrol and the arresting officer.”

The assistant attorney general who handled the case for the state was in court on another matter and unavailable for comment.