We got a not guilty on a public disorderly conduct case in Georgetown, SC today – police testified that our client Teresa was extremely intoxicated and that she continued to curse at the officer after he warned her to stop. Our judge respectfully disagreed with the twenty or so Supreme Court cases I gave him that said she cannot be arrested for cursing at the officer (he later asked me if he called the Georgetown police department over to the courtroom, and if I cursed at them, if I thought they would arrest me. I had to agree they probably would, but told him I doubt that they would convict me). The judge refused to grant a directed verdict, he refused to give a jury instruction on the First Amendment, and he all but instructed the jury to find her guilty.
Teresa has been in recovery for 15 years. She goes to NA meetings four days a week and sponsors 5 people. She works as an addictions counselor, is working on her masters degree in addictions counseling, and she was not drunk. She readily agreed that she cursed while talking to the officer, and that she curses quite often. Between myself and Teresa, we managed to say “Fuck” and “Bullshit” at least twenty times during the trial. At first the jury looked offended, but by the end I think they were laughing with us. I got the cop to say “F***” and “BS” several times as well, and pointed out to the jury that none of us were getting arrested and we were cussing up a storm.
The cop and his friend handcuffed her, and then hauled her about a block to their police car, lifting her off the ground by her arms which were handcuffed behind her back. She is 51 years old and 4″11′. They fractured her right elbow in the process.
We spent yesterday afternoon re-enacting the arrest and exploring the story with our client, and it really paid off when we retold the story to our jury. Bill Luse and a few other local attorneys came and helped us work with her. During her testimony in trial, she was able to come out of the witness chair and show the jury what happened, and it made a tremendous difference to see it instead of just hearing it. She did a wonderful job of connecting with the jurors, and I think the psychodrama from yesterday afternoon gave her the confidence she needed.
We do not get voir dire in South Carolina. During opening, I worked in some voir dire questions and, although no jurors answered out loud, they were nodding and raising their hands in response. At one point my client answered a question during my opening and got called down by the judge.
The jury took about an hour to deliberate, which is a long time for a magistrate court case, and they came back twice with questions.
It’s a small case and Teresa had no money to pay us. But, we are going to file suit now for the wrongful arrest and fractured elbow. Thanks for listening.