State v. Duncan

On April 14, 2005, the ACLU-NJ successfully obtained an Appellate Division ruling that the mere repetitive use of curse words or the “venting of frustration or irritation” with an institution such as the police does not establish an “intent to harass” those who work for that institution. William Duncan was trying to go to the hospital to see his aunt (who had just been rushed there by ambulance) when he got stuck in a traffic jam due to a police road block. He was so annoyed by the delay that he stopped at the first pay phone after the road block and dialed 9-1-1. Mr. Duncan yelled at the 9-1-1operator that the police should have better things to do with their time than have these road blocks, and he repeatedly used a curse word in so doing. When she asked about his particular complaint, he yelled back that his complaint was that these police are "fucking Nazis." Mr. Duncan was cited for harassment based on the 9-1-1call. Mr. Duncan was found guilty by a lower court judge. The ACLU-NJ took over the case on appeal. The Appellate Division ruled that, while Mr. Duncan’s language was “crude,” “impolite” and “vexatious,” it did not amount to harassment. Further, while Mr. Duncan’s conduct may have amounted to improper use of a 9-1-1 line, he was not prosecuted on that charge.

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