Walters v. Zubris

Man arrested for swearing at a police officer

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

Attorneys/Firms: Valerie Burch, Mary Catherine Roper, Witold Walczak (ACLU-PA)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit on May 12, 2010, against the Mahanoy City Police (Schuylkill County) for issuing a disorderly conduct citation to a Pennsylvania man for using profanity. The ACLU argues that profanity and profane gestures are constitutionally protected speech.

In December 2008, due to snow, Mahanoy City resident Matthew Walters double-parked his car outside the pizzeria where he worked delivering pizza. When Walters noticed a police officer writing him a parking ticket, he expressed his dismay and called the officer a "fucking asshole." According to the complaint, Walters was then cited with disorderly conduct for use of obscenity, arrested and briefly jailed. He was later found not guilty by a district magistrate, after taking the day off without pay to defend himself.

Despite their illegality, disorderly conduct charges for use of profanity are common in Pennsylvania. The ACLU-PA has successfully defended about a dozen individuals against them.

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