In Michigan, it was once a misdemeanor to swear in public. The law allowed the district court to punish a defendant with a 90-day jail sentence. While this law is not being applied any more, police are charging people with disorderly conduct for such actions. We are left to question if the police are going too far in these charges.
The disorderly conduct statute in Michigan states the following:
750.167 Disorderly person; subsequent violations by a person convicted of refusing or neglecting to support family; breastfeeding or expressing breast milk exempt. The statute is vague and provides 11 options for law enforcement to flex their muscles. To discuss the broad view of the statute and how cursing can lead to a prosecution, we spoke to several of the top criminal defense lawyers in the state of Michigan to provide commentary.
Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has created a law firm that is known as the top criminal defense team in our state. When asked about how swearing and disorderly conduct are being applied, Grabel stated, “When you see a charge like this, there is generally an intoxication involved. One would hope that someone is not going to be charged for simply using profanity, but a lot of this depends on the officer involved in the prosecution.”
William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates. Amadeo is known as the top criminal defense attorney in Washtenaw County and provided commentary when he said, “When I see these charges levied against somebody, it’s kind of comical. If you ever attend a softball game in Lansing, I guess there could be an array of prosecutions for someone cursing over a bad call. Sadly, this charge comes up so frequently, but we do get a lot of calls for it. This is an example of overbroad prosecutions.”
Joe Brugnoli is a top criminal defense attorney in Kent County, Michigan. When asked about the law, Brugnoli said, “The charge is based upon geography. In Kent County, you will see this type of charge more than you would in Wayne or Jackson County. The best way to defend is to have an understanding of the tone of the prosecutor’s office.”
Matthew McManus is the founder of McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and added, “From a constitutional perspective, we have to ask if swearing does violate one’s First Amendment Rights. There can be litigation to determine if this is a protective speech. The reality is where the speech was made and in front of whom should determine where the law leads.”
While disorderly conduct paints a broad brush when dealing with misdemeanors, we find that the pulse of the police officer and the prosecutor can change in different counties. In some courts, even if found guilty, a fine will be levied; in others, jail time will be assessed. Perhaps more importantly, one’s employment can be affected by such a charge. With this misdemeanor, there can be dramatic economic consequences. This is one more reason why the qualified criminal defense lawyer should be aggressive in defense of the charge.