DETROIT -- The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled today that the law used to convict Timothy Boomer, the “cussing canoeist”, was vague, failed to provide fair notice of what conduct is prohibited and impinges on First Amendment freedoms. The decision means that the conviction has been reversed, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan who defended Mr. Boomer.
Mr. 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.
“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, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “Mr. Boomer should not have been charged in the first place and I hope that he can now put this behind him.”
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 MCL 750.337, as drafted, reaches constitutionally protected speech, and it operates to inhibit the exercise of First Amendment rights.”
Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director said, “This decision reaffirms the longstanding principle of the rights of free speech. The government cannot act as speech police and prosecute a citizen just because someone is offended.”
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.