Home » News » His loud talk didn’t obstruct police, Fla. appeals court rules on First Amendment grounds

By David L. Hudson Jr., published on December 9, 2022

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Talking loudly on the phone near police officers is not obstructing the lawful duties of the officers, a Florida appeals court has ruled. The appeals court reasoned that the First Amendment limits when words alone can rise to the level of obstruction.


The case began in Lakeland, Fla., when the police came to the home of Darrell Keith Chapper and his wife. Mrs. Chapper had called the police to report a domestic disturbance between her and her husband. As an officer was interviewing Mrs. Chapper, Mr. Chapper was on the phone talking to his father. The officer asked Mr. Chapper to get off the phone. After Mr. Chapper twice ignored the officer’s requests to get off the phone, the officer arrested him for obstructing an officer without violence.


State law provides: “Whoever shall resist, obstruct, or oppose any officer … in the lawful execution of any legal duty, without offering or doing violence to the person of the officer, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.” A conviction under this law requires that an officer be engaged in lawful duties and the defendant’s actions constitute obstruction or resistance of the officer’s lawful duties.


Chapper filed a motion for acquittal, arguing that his words did not constitute obstruction. A trial judge denied the motion and Chapper was convicted. He appealed.


A divided Court of Appeal of Florida, 2nd District, found that the government failed to prove the second element — obstruction or resistance — in its Nov. 30, 2022, decision in Chapper v. State.


Words alone cannot constitute obstruction, Judge Suzanne Labrit wrote for the majority. She noted that Mr. Chapper was some distance away from the officer and his wife while he was on the phone. Furthermore, there was no evidence as to how loud Mr. Chapper was when talking on the phone.


In her majority opinion, Labrit concluded: “While Mr. Chapper’s loud voice and his refusal to get off the phone may have been distracting or annoying, the record lacks competent substantial evidence to support his conviction.” A footnote in the majority opinion said the principle of words alone generally not constituting an obstruction is rooted in the First Amendment.


Judge Craig Villanti dissented. He wrote that “a reasonable finder of fact could conclude that Chapper’s behavior was intended to, and did, interfere with the investigation.”


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David L. Hudson Jr. is a professor at Belmont University College of Law who writes and speaks regularly on First Amendment issues. He is the author of Let the Students Speak: A History of the Fight for Free Expression in American Schools (Beacon Press, 2011), and of First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (2012). Hudson is also the author of a 12-part lecture series, Freedom of Speech: Understanding the First Amendment (2018), and a 24-part lecture series, The American Constitution 101 (2019).




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