Florida Drivers Have First Amendment Right to Blast Music, Appeals Court Rules
If you're in Florida blasting obnoxious music from your car way louder than you need to, well, that's your First Amendment right, according to a recent appellate court ruling.
In Marion County, Shannon Montgomery learned that the hard way. After being pulled over for rocking out while driving, the cops also found a healthy amount of cocaine and weed in his car.
"Shannon Montgomery exercised his right to play loud music from his car with great enthusiasm -- enough in fact to draw the attention of the police who pulled him over for a noise violation," Chief Judge Richard Orfinger writes in the court's opinion. "When it was discovered that his driver's license was suspended, he was arrested and his car was searched."
That led Montgomery to face charges of trafficking cocaine, possessing marijuana, and possessing drug paraphernalia -- all stemming from a Florida law that makes it illegal for a vehicle's sound system to be "plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet or more from the motor vehicle."
The term "plainly audible" isn't described in Florida law, which led Montgomery's lawyers to argue the law was vague, but the court didn't agree with that claim -- the opinion states the law "provides fair notice of the prohibited conduct..."
On a challenge of First Amendment rights, however, the court agreed on that point -- loud and obnoxious music is protected speech, and the law is "unconstitutionally overbroad."
In fact, the court ruled that the law discriminates against certain types of speech, giving commercial speech more protection.
"In this case, music or a religious message amplified so as to be heard twenty-five feet away from a vehicle would violate the statute, while a sound truck blaring 'Eat at Joe's' or 'Vote for Smith' plainly audible at a great distance, would be authorized," the opinion states. "Clearly, the statute discriminates on the basis of content, not noise."
Montgomery wasn't exactly the victor in the ruling, though -- the drug charges are going to stick.
The court says the police officer who pulled Montgomery over had no way of knowing he was enforcing an unconstitutional law, so "applying the exclusionary rule in this case would deprive the State of the benefit of evidence obtained as a result of the officer's good faith conduct."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.