ACLU of Michigan to Appeal Conviction of Timothy Boomer, the "Cussing Canoeist"

June 14, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, June 14, 1999

DETROIT–The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced today that it will immediately begin work on an appeal of the conviction of Timothy Boomer, Michigan’s “Cussing Canoeist,” who was found guilty Friday of using “immoral language” in the presence of children.

Boomer, a computer programmer from the Detroit suburb of Roseville, could face up to 90 days in jail and a fine. He has no previous criminal record.

Judge Allen C. Yenoir of the 81st District Court in Standish set a June 23 date for Boomer’s pre-sentencing interview with a probation officer. But Yenoir said that he would not sentence Boomer until the appeals process has been exhausted, a period which will take months and possibly years.

“This trial never should have happened.” said ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss. “It proceeded under an archaic, unconstitutional statute that criminalizes speech. The government has no business deciding whether certain language is immoral.”

“Enforcement of statutes like this is unworkable,” she added. “Unpleasant language is heard every day — on the streets, on radio and television, in sports stadiums and many other places. While we may not always like the ways people express themselves, it is one of the costs of living in a free society.”

Boomer, 25, was found guilty under a 102 year-old state statute that prohibits “indecent, immoral, obscene vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any…child.” The charge stemmed from an Aug. 15, 1998 incident on the Rifle River in mid-Michigan’s Arenac County.

According to the police report, Boomer issued a verbal tirade after falling from his canoe on the river — a popular vacation destination for young adults. At the two-day trial, two local residents and the arresting officer described Boomer’s speech as loud, prolonged and abusive. In an ironic twist, the arresting officer was subsequently arrested for domestic violence and has since left the police force.

“The injustice of this decision is emphasized by the fact that the arresting officer has recently been charged with domestic violence, a crime much more serious than swearing in public,” said Moss.

Nine eyewitnesses in Boomer’s canoeing party said that there was nothing extraordinary about Boomer’s words or volume that day. Several of the eyewitnesses said Boomer cursed mildly up to three times. None found the language inappropriate to the setting.

On appeal, the ACLU will argue that the law should be declared unconstitutional because it criminalizes speech in violation of the First Amendment. The ACLU contends that there are other laws on the books to deal with behavior such as disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and noise, and that those laws should be enforced when individuals act in an illegal manner.

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