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Woman’s outburst politically ambiguous; disorderly conduct conviction stands

August 26, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a Michigan City woman’s disorderly conduct conviction after finding the focus of her speech was politically ambiguous and the state acted rationally in impairing her speech while trying to serve an arrest warrant.

Dorothy Williams shared a home with her elderly mother, her brother, Robert Sanders Jr., and a minor niece. Police knocked on Williams’ door of her Michigan City home in November 2014 looking for Sanders because they had an arrest warrant. Williams yelled and said he was not there and slammed the door. Police requested a search warrant and set up a perimeter around the house.

During this time, Williams left with her niece and walked her to a car for school. Police then wouldn’t let Williams back into the house for safety reasons, causing her to get irate. She screamed and cussed at the officers, and said she needed to get back to her mother. She was loud enough to cause some neighbors to come out of their homes, to which she said, “tell my neighbors to look and see how the Michigan City police department [is] treating me … and an elderly woman.”

Her outburst, which lasted two to four minutes, led to her arrest for disorderly conduct. After obtaining the search warrant, officers found Sanders hiding in the attic of Williams’ house.

She was convicted of the charge and appealed, claiming her speech was political, an affirmative defense under Article 1, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution.

Judge Edward Najam wrote that the appeals court has concluded that speech in which the speaker refers to herself, even when prompted by a police officer’s conduct or statements, and even when coupled with political statements, permits a reasonable fact-finder to conclude the focus of the entirety of the speech is ambiguous and therefore not political.

Williams’ statements during the incident refer to herself or her mother, they refer to her own conduct, and they were directed at least in part toward her neighbors, Najam wrote. Those statements are plainly not political, so it was reasonable for the fact-finder to conclude that the focus of her entire speech was ambiguous. As such, Williams didn’t meet her burden to establish her affirmative defense.

Najam also noted that the state’s arrest of Williams was rationale because her outburst was distracting officers from securing a perimeter around her residence.

The case is Dorothy Williams v. State of Indiana, 46A03-1511-CR-1913.

 

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