Police Not Allowed to Arrest People for being Annoying

Friday, September 14, 2012

A federal appeals court ruled this week that Chicago police cannot arrest people for refusing to leave a scene where potentially “inconvenient, annoying or alarming disorderly conduct” is occurring


The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police were wrong to arrest Buddy Bell during a January 7, 2008, Iraq war protest after he was told to leave the scene. Bell got into trouble when he witnessed officers arresting another protestor and demanded he be freed.


Bell was charged under a Chicago municipal code that outlaws the disobeying of a police officer’s instruction to leave a scene where nearby acts of disorderly conduct “are likely to cause substantial harm or serious inconvenience, annoyance or alarm.”


After a federal judge dismissed Bell’s complaint challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance, he appealed to the Seventh Circuit. There, a three-judge panel sided with him.


“Avoiding annoyance is never a proper basis on which to curtail protected speech,” wrote Judge Joel Flaum for the panel. “We cannot conceive of an annoying behavior, however annoying it may be, that could constitutionally draw as a remedy dispersing others engaged in protected speech.”


The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin noted the ruling left a part of the ordinance intact that criminalizes the refusal to leave a scene when three or more people could cause “substantial harm.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Annoyance Is No Basis to Quell Speech, Court Says (by Jack Bouboushian, Courthouse News Service)

Court Rules Against City Over Rallies (by Pat Milhizer, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin)

Bell v. Chicago Police (pdf)


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