Thursday, May 18, 2006

Legal Notes Pt. 1

Dear Freewayblogger,

I love the impeachment signs, but I am a little unclear about the legality of posting signs on public property. Can you tell me where I can find documentation for this activity? (The First Amendment is a little broad for me.) I am up for tenure next year and getting convicted of anything will have a negative impact on my chances.

Thanks, Dan

Dear Dan,

Thanks for writing. Your concerns are valid and probably shared by many. When I began really pursuing this project in earnest, I sat down with an attorney who specializes in first amendment law. He assured me that whatever local ordinances or vehicle codes I might be violating would “fall away in light of the first amendment…” were the case ever go to court. Having successfully represented Cassandra Brown and Amy Courtney (Brown v. Cal Dept. of Transportation) in a similar case, I took him at his word.

Most of the previous arguments against political speech on freeways were rendered null after September 11th, when U.S. flags went up on overpasses across the country. Nobody was arrested for putting them there, and neither highway workers nor law enforcement officers took them down. Putting up a sign that says “Impeach” is just as much a patriotic act as putting up a flag. Moreso even… practically every nation and regime in the world allows you to fly the flag. America is one of the few where you’re allowed to publicly express political dissent and it’s a damn shame we don’t do more of it.

Just because the law is on your side, however, doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble for it. Don’t expect every cop on the beat to understand the nuances of first amendment law. In close to 3,000 signpostings now I’ve been stopped by cops about half a dozen times. Each time I was absolutely honest about what I was doing, compliant with the officer’s wishes and deferential to their authority. In all but one of the instances I was let go without consequence. In the one instance where I was “not arrested but detained for questioning” I was handcuffed and taken to a police station, held for about 20 minutes and let go. During that time I remained entirely non-confrontational and made it clear by my demeanor that to be arrested and charged for political signposting was A-Okay by me. Others, however, have not been so lucky.

What it all boils down to is this: I feel my country is in danger, both from a Presidency run amok and a media that’s been compliant to if not complicit in the problem. As I read the first amendment, it’s not only my right but my duty to speak out – to as many of my fellow citizens as I’m able – given my right to full and unfettered free political speech. And I’m perfectly willing to defend that right in a court of law.

I’ll cover more of the legal arguments in later posts, but for now you should remember this: going to court is always going to be a crapshoot, and so is dealing with cops. Given, however, the speed and ease with which you can post, and the fact that you can do it at both a time and place of your choosing, there’s no need to worry much about either. As the cop who cuffed me and took me in for questioning said as he let me go, “Just be careful out there hanging those signs.”


Anonymous said...

I have only one (extremely long, with subparts) comment: Even if it is illegal to post such a sign, at best it is a misdemeanor. Furthermore, the charge would be the equivalent of, say, littering. There is the possibility of being charged with causing a disturbance or putting drivers at risk by distraction. That being said, what is a protest, a picket line, or some such thing? its the same. So, i say, go ahead and post in public. And if you get arrested and charged, accept the consequences like MLK did. And hire a good attorney to take it up to the federal courts and argue your first amendments rights to the end. It makes for fabulous political theater, and who knows? Your case may end up being an important supreme court decision, and your name will be memorialized in law books for future generations. you know, like Mr. Miranda, or Ms. Brown.

me said...

Dear Freeway Blogger -

It is legal to post a sign over a freeway as long as it is connected/ leaning against the inside of the railing (to keep signs from flying onto the freeway and killing me...I mean...others). I'm sure you and your followers understand this thread of law logic. How do I know this? My very good friend at the 9th Circut Court of Appeals worked the case. So hang away on the inside of the confines with gusto.