Loud and clear: Florida Supreme Court throws out car radio volume law

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The Florida Supreme Court made speakers go boom Thursday, overturning a state law that curbed drivers from playing music too loudly.

The unanimous decision from the state justices is a triumph for a Pinellas County lawyer who, fined for blasting a Justin Timberlake song from his vehicle in 2007, challenged the statute that barred motorists from blaring music that was “plainly audible” to someone 25 feet away.

The seven justices determined the statute “invalid because it is an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of expression,” according to the ruling.

In doing so, they upheld the opinion of the Lakeland-based 2nd District Court of Appeal, concluding that because commercial and political messages were exempt from the ban, restricting other kinds of speech violated the First Amendment.

Sheriff’s officials in Collier and Lee counties told the Daily News that they haven’t enforced the law since the 2011 decision by the district appeal court. Collier and Lee are among the counties governed by that appeal court district.

“We saw this coming. While this was in process, we stopped issuing (citations),” said Sgt. David Velez, spokesman for the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

Two citations issued this year by the agency’s patrol unit for the now-defunct noise law will be reviewed if the recipients formally challenge them with the Sheriff’s Office, Velez added.

In the city of Naples, the head of code enforcement said the city will have to rework its ordinance if the Supreme Court decision stands.

The city now enforces a noise ordinance stating that music from businesses, homes or cars offensive to a reasonable person is a violation.

“If the state rules it’s unenforceable, there’s not much we can do about it,” said Roger Jacobsen, adding that Naples doesn’t deal with loud cars often.

Because the law applied to moving vehicles, law enforcement agencies issue fines to motorists, rather than code enforcement.

To crank a car stereo up loud enough to violate the noise statute in question, the speakers that came with the vehicle likely aren’t good enough to project to 25 feet, said Addie Cid, a manager at Audio Concepts, a North Naples business that installs car sound systems.

Cid said music on standard stereos gets distorted when pushed to the maximum volume, making it undesirable to those in the car.

Those stereos considered a nuisance under the statute likely were post-factory additions designed for bigger sound, she explained.

The business is seeing fewer requests in the last five years, with car owners less willing to shell out for souped-up sound, Cid said.

“It’s not that big a market any more with the (down) economy,” Cid said.

Instead, the shop now focuses on installing other add-ons, like GPS, though the die-hard car stereo aficionados – the ones who enter sound competitions where music is less important than the depth of the bass vibrations – were never deterred by ordinances.

“They were going to take their chances,” she said, “no matter what.”

The fine was around $70, according to local law enforcement officials and the supporting documents for the Supreme Court case.

Posted earlier from The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE _ Motorists are free to blast Justin Timberlake — or any other music they choose — as loud as they wish, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The court unanimously struck down a state law barring drivers from blaring their radios at a volume that was “plainly audible” to someone 25 feet away. Three of the seven justices -- Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justices Charles Canady and Peggy Quince -- didn’t fully support the reasoning behind the decision, but didn’t write opinions saying where they differed.

The ruling upholds the opinion of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, though the Supreme Court said the law was not unconstitutionally vague, one of the reasons the DCA gave for striking down the law. Instead, the high court said the law infringed on the freedom of expression.

Writing for the majority, Justice Jorge Labarga highlighted a part of the law that exempts commercial and political messages from the ban, saying that amounted to a restriction on certain kinds of speech, a violation of the First Amendment.

Labarga’s ruling was skeptical of the state’s argument that the ban was justified because it makes traffic safer — but said that didn’t matter.

“The state simply argues that noncommercial vehicles are more dangerous to the public because they are ubiquitous,” he wrote. “This argument, however, fails to explain how a commercial or political vehicle amplifying commercial or political messages audible a mile away is less dangerous or more tolerable than a noncommercial vehicle amplifying a religious message audible just over twenty-five feet away from the vehicle.”

The case was brought by Richard Catalano, a lawyer who got a $73 ticket for listening to Justin Timberlake on his way to work one morning in 2007. Catalano said he was surprised by the fine and decided to fight the law’s constitutionality in court. Alexander Schermerhorn also challenged the law.

Justices also rejected an argument from the state that it could chop off the exemption for business and political speech, though that portion of the ruling could also signal a way to work around the shortcoming.

“Severing the provision from the statute would expand the statute?s reach beyond what the Legislature contemplated,” Labarga wrote. “Accordingly, in striving to show great deference to the Legislature, this Court will not legislate and sever provisions that would effectively expand the scope of the statute?s intended breadth.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Pam Bondi said her office is reviewing the decision.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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