"Cussing Canoeist" Conviction Reversed in Michigan

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
April 1, 2002 12:00 am

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DETROIT–In a case that drew international attention, a Michigan appeals court today struck down a 105-year-old law used to convict a man dubbed the “”cussing canoeist,”” saying that the law unquestionably “operates to inhibit the exercise of First Amendment Rights.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which defended Roseville resident Timothy Boomer, hailed the decision as a victory for free speech rights and common sense.

“”This decision reaffirms the longstanding principle of the rights of free speech,” said Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “As the court today recognized, the government cannot act as speech police and prosecute a citizen just because someone is offended.””

Boomer was convicted in August, 1998 for yelling a stream of profanities in earshot of a woman and her two children after he fell out of his canoe on the Rifle River. The 1897 law that he allegedly violated prohibited using indecent, immoral, vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of women or children.

In today’s ruling, Justice William B. Murphy, writing for the Court said, “”Allowing a prosecution where one utters ‘insulting’ language could possibly subject a vast percentage of the populace to a misdemeanor conviction.”” He further added, “”?we find it unquestionable that [the law], as drafted, reaches constitutionally protected speech, and it operates to inhibit the exercise of First Amendment rights.””

“”We knew all along that this law was unconstitutional, but we were willing to take it further because we were confident that the appeals court would rule this way in the end,”” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “”Mr. Boomer should not have been charged in the first place and I hope that he can now put this behind him.””

Also representing Mr. Boomer in the district court and on his first appeal to the circuit court was attorney William Street of Saginaw. Cori Beckwith and Paul Denenfeld acted as cooperating attorneys on the appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

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