Irony struck a village named Liberty when a federal judge rebuked the town for trampling the First Amendment rights of an angry man who expressed himself by writing profanities on his speeding ticket.
Willian Barboza was pulled over for speeding in 2012 in the tiny Village of Liberty, located in upstate New York. When he mailed in his ticket to pay his fine, he expressed his displeasure with the town by scratching through “Liberty” and writing “Tyranny.”
But that wasn’t all.
He also wrote “f**k your s**tty town b***hes” on the payment form, prompting the town to reject his payment and order him to travel two hours for a personal court appearance.
Upon arriving at the hearing, Barboza, who was 21 at the time, was arrested by officers on the orders of an assistant district attorney. He was booked, driven to another town, arraigned without a lawyer on the charge of “aggravated harassment” and held for bail.
Although a judge dismissed the harassment charge in 2013, ruling that Barboza’s comments are protected under the First Amendment, the New York Civil Liberties Union took up the case to ensure that Liberty lives up to its name. From the NYCLU’s statement:
The NYCLU and attorney Stephen Bergstein of Bergstein & Ullrich, LLP, lead counsel on the case, contended that the prosecutor and the police officers – sworn to uphold and enforce the law – had violated Barboza’s First Amendment rights and also contended that the Village of Liberty was liable for failing to train law enforcement to respect the First Amendment. In Thursday’s ruling in the Southern District of New York, the judge agreed that the assistant district attorney was liable for violating Barboza’s clearly established rights and also ruled that the village had to stand trial on the claim it had failed to properly train its officers.
After all, if the First Amendment can’t protect you from cussing out the government in a town named Liberty, it’s not good for much else.