Citizens who curse at police and call them abusive names while they're investigating a crime are protected from arrest by the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, ruled the Washington State Supreme Court. The Seattle Times says the justices threw out the juvenile obstruction conviction of a then-17-year-old boy who pelted Seattle police officers with obscenities and insults when they were called to his house to investigate a reported disturbance in 2011.
Justice Charles Johnson wrote that when “individuals exercise their constitutional rights to criticize how the police are handling a situation, they cannot be concerned about risking a criminal conviction for obstruction.” While the boy's words “may have been disrespectful, discourteous and annoying, they are nonetheless constitutionally protected,” Johnson said. Lila Silverstein, the Washington Appellate Project attorney who argued the case, said the opinion sends a clear “and very important” message. “You have a right to observe and criticize the police,” she said. “Speech doesn't have to be pretty to be protected.” Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said, “We support the court's decision.”