Federal Court Declares State Law Criminalizing Speech To Be Unconstitutional

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November 24, 2003 —  In a case the NYCLU filed in August 2002, a federal judge today ruled that a substantial portion of New York State's so-called "aggravated harassment" statute was unconstitutional. The part of the statute that the NYCLU challenged made it a crime for a person, "with intent to . . . annoy . . . or alarm," to communicate to someone information "in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm." This ruling is significant because the statute criminalized a wide range of speech, political or otherwise.

The NYCLU brought the case on behalf of Carlos Vives, a 66-year old Manhattan resident who the NYPD arrested and detained in a cell for ten hours last year after he had mailed political and religious materials to a candidate for political office. After finding that the statute under which Mr. Vives was arrested violated the First Amendment, the federal judge also held that the arrest was unconstitutional. A separate trial will be held to determine the amount of damages owed to Mr. Vives.