On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court released a ruling striking down a law that made it illegal for music coming from a car to be “plainly audible” from 25 feet or more.
The court ruled on a pair of cases originally heard in Pinellas County. Both drivers in those cases were cited for playing their car stereos too loudly. One of them, lawyer Richard Catalano, was issued a $73 ticket.
In the appeal before the Supreme Court, State of Florida vs. Richard T. Catalano, Florida Statutes, Section 316.3045(1)(a) was ruled to be “an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of expression and is unconstitutionally overbroad, but is not unconstitutionally vague” and the decision of the 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld.
The justices called the law unconstitutional and an “unreasonable restriction on the freedom of expression.” They wrote that it violated free speech rights for several reasons, including that the law created an exemption for vehicles used specifically for business or political purposes.
The Court did not have a similar problem with the requirement that a stereo must be “plainly audible” from 25 feet or more to be illegal, which the lower court had questioned. Instead, the Court said that it came down to the fact that the right to play loud music in public is protected under the First Amendment.
Justice Jorge Labarga, writing for the majority, focused on a part of the law that exempts commercial and political messages from the ban, saying it amounted to a restriction on certain kinds of speech, and thus a violation of the First Amendment. The ruling was also skeptical of the State’s argument that making traffic safer was justification for the law. This is a curious argument made by the State as some of the history of the statute stated that it was unlawful for stereos or car stereos to be audible from 25 feet away or more and louder than necessary by people in the vehicle near schools, churches or hospitals. These reasons likely would have been a much stronger argument for the State that the ban was reasonable.
Another curiosity to keep in mind is that there was a recent shooting case where Jordan Davis’ alleged shooter Michael Dunn had told police he asked the driver of the car Davis was in to turn the music down repeatedly before the shooting. While the Davis shooting case is being built around a “stand your ground defense” in that Dunn alleges a shotgun was pulled on him when the music was turned up on him, it would be interesting to know how the Davis case influenced the Florida Supreme Court’s reasoning as to the reasonableness of the level of sound coming from a vehicle.