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Jan 03 2013

Michigan Woman Jailed for Cursing

I don’t know how I missed this story until she was released, but a Michigan woman just spent 11 days in jail for cursing in a courthouse. And she was only released after another judge overruled the first judge, but only on the amount of the bond, not on the actual charges she’s facing.

Hours after a circuit court judge ordered the bond for a woman jailed for swearing reduced to the $500 she already paid, LaRue Ford walked out of the Berrien County Jail.

The ACLU filed an emergency appeal to get Ford released from the jail, where she’s been since Dec. 18 for cursing in the court clerk’s office…

At the request of the ACLU, Circuit Judge Alfred Butzbaugh overruled District Court Judge Dennis Wiley and reduced her bond.

She originally posted $500 (10%) of the $5,000 bond, but had her bond revoked because she was moving to Indiana and had no permanent address…

She admits cursing, but said it was to herself as she left the clerk’s office frustrated after getting the runaround while trying to clear up an old traffic ticket. When she returned with $50 to finally clear it up, Judge Dennis Wiley ordered her arrested.

Are you fucking kidding me? Given how utterly unjust our court system is, profanity is about the mildest reaction one should expect. A $5000 bond for a woman for saying a naughty word? I’m not the least bit shocked that this happened in Berrien County. Even by the standards of our criminal injustice system, that county is among the worst — not in the state, in the entire country. When I interviewed Amy Bach, author of the amazing book Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court, she told me that she spent a lot of time in Berrien County and would have included it in her book if she’d had space (she focused on several counties down south instead).

38 comments

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  1. 1
    Doug Little

    Well that’s inflation for you, I remember when swear jars were only a buck.

  2. 2
    A Hermit

    Funny; I just had a commenter on Thinderfoot’s video channel tell me that people in Canada can be arrested and put in jail for being rude…(lucky for potty mouth me this is not true…) And here it is happening in Michigan…

    Amazing…

  3. 3
    Reverend PJ

    What a fucking joke. Events like this make me wonder why I keep living in Michigan.

  4. 4
    jameshanley

    Fuck the Draft!

  5. 5
    abbeycadabra

    Hermit @2:

    As a Canadian… no, that is not a thing.

  6. 6
    Kengi

    “people in Canada can be arrested and put in jail for being rude…”

    That was just a thinly veiled attempt by some Canadian politicians to kick Americans out of Canada. The bill didn’t pass since those Americans spend their money buying Canadian beer. If they complain about the beer, that’s still a capital offense…

  7. 7
    Kengi

    There was, of course, an exception for Montreal.

  8. 8
    tacitus

    Another reason to love the First Amendment…?

  9. 9
    A Hermit

    No abbeycadabra it’s true! I’m facing 15 to life for not saying “excuse me” when I got on the TTC subway the other day…

    (Just kidding, I’m a prairie boy…)

  10. 10
    Funny Diva

    Silly woman…FREEZE PEACH doesn’t mean you can criticize the gummint!
    FREEZE PEACH is only for the job creators!

    There are not enough face-palms or head-desks…

  11. 11
    joe_k

    As a Britisher, I was always led to believe that one of the few advantages of the American justice system was this thing called the First Amendment, which meant that governments could not regulate speech. Was I mistaken on this issue?

  12. 12
    Raging Bee

    Given how utterly unjust our court system is, profanity is about the mildest reaction one should expect.

    Maybe, and maybe this particular punishment was excessive and unwarranted — but in general, harassing public officials when they’re legally required to deal with the public is a serious matter. County officials — court clerks, social workers, CPS, etc. — get angry and/or threatening words thrown at them on a regular basis, many times for perfectly understandable reasons (which may or may not really be the fault of the officials themselves), and they can’t always immediately tell real from idle threats on the spot; so there will inevitably be a tendency to overreact, at least occasionally.

    Also, county officials do what they do according to certain laws; so there is a need to deter any attempt to hound or intimidate them into bending the laws.

  13. 13
  14. 14
    Abby Normal

    Brings to mind…

    JUDGE: Are you trying to show contempt for this court?

    MAE WEST: I was doin’ my best to hide it.

  15. 15
    tacitus

    As a Britisher, I was always led to believe that one of the few advantages of the American justice system was this thing called the First Amendment, which meant that governments could not regulate speech. Was I mistaken on this issue?

    In theory, no, but in practice (as exemplified by this case) the principles behind the Amendment are so unevenly applied that the advantage is essentially nullified in many cases. After all five times as many Americans (per capita) are in jail today than Brits. Freedom of speech isn’t much use if you’re rotting away in jail.

    If you remember, back on Remembrance Day, some snotty-nosed teenage in the UK was arrested for posting a burning poppy on Facebook along with some vile slur against military servicemen. Such a thing wouldn’t happen in the US, because of the First Amendment, but as I said at the time, even though the UK has no such amendment, I believed that because of the public backlash against the arrest (a) the kid would not be prosecuted and (b) the official policy would be revisited.

    Well, I checked to see if there was an update on that story just the other day, and there was. The snotty nosed kid was released without charge (after a few hours of being detained and after agreeing to meet members of the armed forces in person). And the Home Office has issued new guidance that arrests should not be made in such cases where the offenders showed remorse for their actions. (Yes, I know that’s not perfect by any means, but it is a step in the right direction.)

    By the way, there is a major issue with the bail bond system in the US — and it is penalizing the poor (yet again) far more than the rest of American society, as this article explains:

    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2012/1216/Jailed-without-conviction-Behind-bars-for-lack-of-money

  16. 16
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    As a Britisher, I was always led to believe that one of the few advantages of the American justice system was this thing called the First Amendment, which meant that governments could not regulate speech. Was I mistaken on this issue?

    Just because the fuckers aren’t allowed to fuck with people in a certain way doesn’t mean they won’t try.

  17. 17
    janeymack

    @Raging Bee (#12)–Seriously? I see nothing to suggest that the woman uttered a threat (idle or otherwise), or attempted to “hound or intimidate” anyone. Those things certainly happen, and they are not cool, but I don’t see any evidence that any of that happened here. The story is not specific as to what she said; she says she was talking to herself as she left the office frustrated. It just seems a real leap to me to assume that she was threatening, hounding, or intimidating anybody.

    If there is more to the story, I would be interested to read it; but there is nothing in this piece, or the linked article, to suggest any such thing.

  18. 18
    shouldbeworking

    Piers Morgan knows that the First Amendment covers everything except dissing the Second Amendment.

  19. 19
    SallyStrange

    Oh come on Raging Bee. If the bureaucrat really felt threatened and alarmed about some threats and imprecations, why wasn’t she arrested on the spot? She left and returned, which is when she was arrested. So, she was being threatening enough to warrant arrest, but not so urgently so that one would do it on the spot. One would wait a few hours or days.

    That’s your suggestion?

  20. 20
    Ben P

    Fuck the Draft!

    Virtually the same situation although slightly different in the facts.

    Local judges, like many other officials with large power within their scope and limited supervisory review often succumb to the peculiar affliction of being drunk on their own power. Most judges with this affliction manifest it in rather petty ways, bossing around court staff and bullying parties and attorneys, summarily seizing cell phones when their owners have the temnerity to let them ring in court, etc.

    Some go far beyond and you end up with stuff like this. A contempt citation for swearing in court is legal enough despite the first amendment because the judges have power to keep decorum in their courtroom. But like the “fuck the draft case” the judge told the defendant to take the jacket off, the defendant says no, and the judge, with his dander up, response “you can take the jacket off or you can go to jail.”

  21. 21
    Raging Bee

    Janeymack: As i said before, I was not defending this particular action, only mentioning the legitimate need to protect public workers from undue harassment.

    So, she was being threatening enough to warrant arrest, but not so urgently so that one would do it on the spot.

    My girlfriend used to be a social worker, and a common complaint among her colleagues was inadequate security in the building where they worked (interviewing applicants for county assistance was part of their job, so they were regularly exposed to people who sometimes got irrational for various reasons). It’s possible that a cop was not available when the threat was made, but there was someone on hand to arrest her when she came back.

    And no, the Fuck the Draft case is not at all comparable to this one — wearing a jacket with that statement was not a threat directed at any particular official.

  22. 22
    Jafafa Hots

    A friend of mine was threatened with arrest for flipping the bird to a neighbor. Neighbor called the cops, cop said it was grounds for arrest. etc.

    I was threatened with arrest for, well, basically noticing that a cop was pissed off and laughing at him.
    (I actually WAS arrested for telling a donut joke in the presence of an undercover cop… but that’s a long story)

    It may not be exactly common for Americans to be arrested for non-threatening speech, but it is routine for Americans to be arrested for “pissing off someone who can have you arrested.”

    That actually might be the number one “crime” resulting in arrest in the US.

  23. 23
    dan4

    @21. “…It’s possible that a cop was available when the threat was made…”

    Where in the story does it say that Ford made any kind of “threat?”

  24. 24
    ildi

    According to HuffPo:

    The profane words were reportedly “F–k this s–t,” according to WKZO, which also reports Ford has a master’s degree in social work and doesn’t have a prior criminal record.

  25. 25
    criticaldragon1177

    Ed Brayton

    So cursing can get you arrested in some states? That’s good to know.

  26. 26
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Dafuq?

    So, yeah, swearing isn’t polite, and you’re supposed to be super-polite in courtrooms, but this is fucking ridiculous.

    Anyone else reminded of Saint George’s run-ins with the law over “Filthy Words”/”Seven Words”?

  27. 27
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    *reads further*

    She wasn’t even in the bloody courtroom at the time, and the word(s) in question were not directed at any one specific person! How in the nine circles of Hell was this even legal?!

  28. 28
    Jafafa Hots

    Well, a California court ruled that if you sneak in in the dark and pretend to be someone’s boyfriend and have sex with them under that false pretense, and they catch sight of your face and realize you are NOT their boyfriend, it is NOT RAPE.

    It’s only rape, apparently, if you’re married and the person pretends to be your husband.
    Not married? No rape.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-rape-impersonation-20130104,0,2338743.story

    So, how the hell is the swearing thing even legal? Simple – by being part of the same legal system that says single women can’t be raped.

  29. 29
    Joey Maloney

    There was, of course, an exception for Montreal.

    Sauf les genes francophones.

  30. 30
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    *sigh* I had to ask…

  31. 31
    nohellbelowus

    Was it gendered swearing?

    If so, eleven days in the slammer seems a bit lenient.

    /snark

  32. 32
    eric

    Bee @21:

    And no, the Fuck the Draft case is not at all comparable to this one — wearing a jacket with that statement was not a threat directed at any particular official.

    Then it IS comparable, because nowhere in this story is it stated or implied that what she said was a threat directed at the official.

    You seem to be using this article (about cursing) as a platform to talk about something completely different (threatening). This is a form of trolling. Now normally you stay on subject, so I will defend you and say this is a little unusual, but that is what you’re doing here.

    The real irony in your change of subject is that it seems to arise from a desire by you to defend social workers from abuse. Yet La Rue Ford, the person who went to jail for 11 days appears to be…yup, a social worker.

  33. 33
    democommie

    @ James Hanley:

    I can see where, “Fuck the Draft” is a clear cut violation of sub-statute 1-7Z/ii of the BEOMC*. But, I wonder how those people (and yes, I do mean, THOSE people) would feel about a guy wearin’ a t-shirt saying:

    “Fuck the muredering George Tiller”

    Something tells me that they’d develop selective blindness.

    * Busybodies Easily Offended Moral Code

  34. 34
    democommie

    I mean other than the fact that “murder” is misspelled.

  35. 35
    Childermass

    See headline. Guess: She’s black. Click link. See picture. Hypothesis confirmed.

  36. 36
    jayarrrr

    Calhoun County isn’t exactly a bastion of freedom, either. Was jacked up once with the old “your vehicle looks like a suspicious vehicle seen in the area 3 days ago” ruse.

  37. 37
    kermit.

    Ben P has it right. She wasn’t arrested for swearing, but for rejecting the righteous authority of the judge. Those folks who grew up in a “bible-believing church” (as opposed to those other Christian denominations) can affirm that there were really only two laws in the bible for which people were killed or worse: 1. Respect the king (e.g. God) and 2. Respect his representatives (they’ll let you know who they are).

    Authoritarian bullies are really big on respect, by which they generally mean abject submission of heart and soul to a superior. Not only is obedient behavior expected, but the appropriate emotional response also. Perhaps she rolled her eyes; if so, she’s lucky he didn’t go for a summary execution.

  38. 38
    John Horstman

    Hehe, I was called to testify in court one time with respect to a disorderly conduct ticket my friend was challenging. He was arrested and eventually ticketed for asking an assembled crowd at an Iraq War II protest, “Does anyone have a problem with my fucking mask?” (I’m not 100% sure of the wording, see below) after the police demanded he remove it so they could film him, but nominally because it was “making people nervous”. The prosecutor asked me if he had said, “Does anyone have a problem with my fucking mask?” and I got to explain to the court how I wasn’t certain if he had said, “Does anyone have a problem with my fucking mask?” or, “Does anyone have a fucking problem with my mask?” but that he had definitely said “fucking” and had said it only once during the protest (he was challenging the ticket on the basis that it was issued because he had used “profanities”, while he maintained he had only uttered a single profanity, which was the truth). I had to try really hard to keep from laughing my ass off, given that the ‘crime’ for which my friend was being charged was being repeatedly committed by pretty much everyone in the court. The moral of the story is that context is everything. Trying to censor speech that doesn’t actually harm anyone is ridiculous.

    As a side note, we passed the three police officers who were testifying in the case on our way into the court room, and they were discussing with exactly which lie they were about to commit perjury (it turns out they decided to go with a story where my friend was swearing repeatedly, at them, and “acting threatening”). That experience (including upholding the ticket) killed any remaining respect I had for any portion of the criminal justice system, which wasn’t a whole lot by that point.

    Anyway, fuck censorship.

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