Free Speech on the Docket

State v. Devoll

This case falls into the legal category of:

Status:
Closed
Case Dates:
Tuesday, 16 April, 2013 - Wednesday, 1 May, 2013
Facts:

Defendant Heath Devoll went to the Massilon Police Department to report vandalism that had occurred to his front windshield from a pellet gun shot. Mr. Devoll had been informed by the prosecutor’s office that he should file a police report and then schedule an appointment to meet with the prosecutor. However, when he went to the police station he was told there was nothing they could do because “it was a civil matter.” Frustrated, Mr. Devoll left the police station and as he was leaving stated, “This is a great use of tax payer money.” Then, as he was walking through the double door to the exit, he declared, “This is bullshit!” The officer he was speaking with called him back in to the station and gave him a ticket for disorderly conduct. While giving him the ticket, the officer informed him that he was not allowed to curse in the station in front of other people. Apparently, there was a woman waiting in the lobby at the time. Mr. Devoll was contacted shortly after by the officer’s supervisor who informed him he would be allowed to file a complaint regarding the broken windshield. He also confirmed there was a policy of not cursing in front of others in the police station. Mr. Devoll then contacted the ACLU of Ohio Foundation for assistance in representing him on his “Disorderly Conduct” charge. The charge is a minor misdemeanor under O.R.C. §2971.11(A)(2), which provides that “No person shall recklessly cause inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm to another by doing any of the following: …(2) Making unreasonable noise or an offensively coarse utterance, gesture, or display or communicating unwarranted and grossly abusive language to any person…”

Legal Theory:

This case raises numerous constitutional issues including, prosecution for First Amendment protected speech, as well as the potentially unconstitutional nature of the Massillon police department policy regarding cursing.

Status:

Mr. Devoll appeared in court on April 15, 2012 for an arraignment hearing at the Massillon Municipal Court and entered a plea of “Not Guilty.” On May 1, the case was tried in Massillon Municipal Court. At the close of the state’s case, Mr. Devoll was found not guilty.