On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court struck down a 2007 statute that made it illegal to play music on vehicles at volumes loud enough for a cop to hear it 25 feet away. Though the justices did not accept an argument for the statute being too vague about the volume – they held the statute was a form of content-based censorship that went against the First Amendment.
In the instant case, the police had ticketed Richard Catalano and Alexander Schermerhorn at separate traffic stops for playing loud music. The accused pleaded not guilty and argued that their tickets should be dismissed, as the statute was “unconstitutional.” Later, they changed their pleas to no-contest and appealed to the higher court. Their appeal was supported by an amicus brief by the ACLU.
They won at the Second District Court of Appeal and at the Supreme Court. The Florida court said that the ban on playing loud music was unconstitutional and against free speech rights. It was also noted that the statute had been made applicable only to private vehicles and not to police and emergency vehicles, or to commercial broadcasts from vehicles used in business promotions, or political promotions.
The ruling observed, “The regulation, however, treats commercial and political speech more favorably … For instance, business and political vehicles may amplify commercial or political speech at any volume, whereas an individual traversing the highways for pleasure would be issued a citation for listening to any type of sound, whether it is religious advocacy or music, too loudly.”
The court observed that the statute was not sufficiently specific to limit free expression only to protect public safety, but “is an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of expression and is unconstitutionally overbroad, but it is not unconstitutionally vague.”