Supreme Court Will Allow You to Turn Up the Radio

boom trunk.jpgHere’s one nuisance of modern society. You’re driving around, enjoying a great tune on the radio, when all of the sudden, massive amounts of bass shake your entire being to the core. Last year, such massive bass was illegal if the bass was “plainly audible” from 25 feet away by a police officer. But the law has changed, and sound systems in Florida are now free to blast away. The Florida Supreme Court has put the final nail in the coffin of Florida’s noise statute. Of course, this statute was aimed directly at law enforcement’s target market of kids driving cars with too much bass. According to prevailing police opinions, too much boom in the trunk translates into a drug charge of some sort. Happened all the time, trust me.

The Florida law which contains restrictions on sound volume is found in Florida statute 316.3045, finding that “[i]t is unlawful for any person operating or occupying a motor vehicle .. to amplify the sound produced by a radio … so that the sound is: (a) Plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet or more …. (2) … this section shall not apply to any law enforcement motor vehicle (3) … this section does not apply to motor vehicles used for business or political purposes”.

So there you have it. John Q. Citizen may not turn up his radio. But if John Q. Citizen is selling ice cream, the ice cream truck may turn up it’s radio without violating the law. After all, shouldn’t ice cream trucks have more rights than the average citizen? And, my Harley mufflers are permitted to make noise from hundreds of feet away, and that’s legal. But if my radio is playing that same muffler sound, that exact sound is illegal because it comes from my radio–rather than the muffler….hum. Some law. This is one of those statutes where you realize there are no educational requirements placed upon our elected officials who write the laws. If you can get elected–you get to write laws. Education optional.

Back in May of 2011, I wrote “Noise Law Declared Unconstitutional” celebrating the fact that the Second District Court of Appeals ruled that Florida’s noise statute is unconstitutional. The problem was, I could not get Orlando / Orange County judges to follow the ruling, as there was a conflicting decision out of our 5th DCA contrary to that ruling (well, I don’t think it was contrary, but that’s a story for another day). Eventually, our local 5th DCA agreed, making it unconstitutional in Orlando as well (for details, see my article Orlando’s Loud Music Statute Now Unconstitutional).

So, the first case to find this statute unconstitutional began when an officer gave criminal defense lawyer Richard Catalano a citation for a loud radio. Safe to say that this officer gave a ticket to the wrong guy. Richard is an excellent criminal defense attorney, the kind of guy I only see a couple times a year as he’s giving lectures around the state on how to defend cases. Funny thing is, I saw Richard give a talk a few months ago, and he never even mentioned the fact that he caused this entire statute to be rendered unconstitutional (I would have bragged about it, this is a big deal!). Richard challenged the constitutionality of the statute from the beginning–and had the county court granted his motion–we wouldn’t be here talking about this today. But most county court judges do not have the gonads to find anything unconstitutional (that’s a free practice tip). Richard appealed the county court’s denial all the way up to the Second District Court of Appeals, and it was there that he found the agreement of the court. But, the State still disagreed, and they appealed the decision all the way up to the Supreme Court.

And here we are today. The Florida Supreme Court, in the case of State of Florida v. criminal defense attorney Richard Catalano (SC11-1166, December 13, 2012) agreed that the statute is, in fact, unconstitutional. Can you believe that the Supreme Court gave a ruling in favor of a criminal defense attorney? The court didn’t seem to like the fact that the statute is an unreasonable restriction on freedom of expression, and the statute is overbroad by intruding more on our rights than necessary. The court was also unsettled by the fact that the statute did not apply to all vehicles, commercial and political vehicles were exempt. Once again, congratulations Richard on a hard fought win!