Scarpa v. Pawlowski, et al

Woman charged with disorderly conduct for swearing

Court/Assoc.: US District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

Attorneys/Firms: Marieke Tuthill, Mary Catherine Roper, Witold Walczak (ACLU-PA)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit on May 12, 2010, against the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) for issuing disorderly conduct citations to a Pennsylvania resident for using profanity. The ACLU argues that profanity and profane gestures are constitutionally protected speech.

The lawsuit involves Lona Scarpa, a Mocanaqua (Luzerne County) resident and mother of three. In October 2008, she and a friend were out walking when a motorcyclist who knew them drove past, swerving close as if to hit them, and shouted an insult. Scarpa responded by calling the motorcyclist an "asshole." That same day, she reported the incident to the Pennsylvania State Police, who serve as local law enforcement in the town. In addition to citing the motorcyclist, a state trooper mailed her a disorderly conduct citation for yelling "asshole." The citation noted that if convicted, she could face as much as ninety days and a fine up to $300. Scarpa challenged her conviction before a district magistrate and won, after hiring a lawyer to defend her.

On January 4, 2011, the ACLU announced an agreement with the PSP. As part of the settlement, the PSP agreed to stop its practice of citing individuals with disorderly conduct for using profanity and to provide training to its troopers about free speech rights.

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