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Anti-swearing law unconstitutional, appeals court decides

Tuesday, April 2, 2002

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- A state appeals court Monday struck down Michigan's 105-year-old law against using vulgar language in front of women and children, throwing out the conviction of a canoeist who let loose a stream of curses after falling into the water.

The three-judge panel unanimously overturned the 1999 conviction of Timothy Joseph Boomer. A jury had found him guilty of violating the law by swearing repeatedly after tumbling into the Rifle River.

He was fined $75 and ordered to work four days in a child-care program, but the sentence was put on hold while the case was under appeal.

Enacted in 1897 and slightly reworded in 1931, the law says that anyone using "indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."

The appeals court declared the law unconstitutional, saying it would be "difficult to conceive of a statute that would be more vague."

"Allowing a prosecution where one utters 'insulting' language could possibly subject a vast percentage of the populace to a misdemeanor conviction," the court said.


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