Photo courtesy iStock: Aleksandr Potashev
A state anti-harassment law does not violate the First Amendment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled recently in a case involving a juvenile appealing his delinquency adjudication.
A juvenile, known in court papers as D.J., was riding a bicycle on a narrow sidewalk in the city of Tilton with a couple of friends. An older man told D.J. to stop riding on the sidewalk. D.J. became angry and began repeatedly cursing at the man. A nearby store owner called the police, who arrived on the scene.
The state filed a delinquency petition against D.J., accusing him of violating a provision of the state’s anti-harassment law, which reads:
“A person is guilty of a misdemeanor, and subject to prosecution in the jurisdiction where the communication originated or was received, if such person:
. . .
“(b) Makes repeated communications at extremely inconvenient hours or in offensively coarse language with a purpose to annoy or alarm another …”
A trial court entered an order finding D.J. delinquent for violating the law and later placed him on 12 months’ conditional release.
The state Supreme Court noted that the law is content neutral, because it targets “the manner of communication” rather than the underlying message. The court added: “The statute only criminalizes communication that meets three restrictive criteria: it must be repeated, offensively coarse or at inconvenient hours, and with the purpose to annoy or alarm.”
The court further observed that there were sufficient alternative ways that D.J. could have communicated his message without violating the terms of the law.
David L. Hudson Jr. teaches First Amendment law and constitutional law classes at Belmont University College of Law. He is the author, co-author, or co-editor of more than 50 books, including The Constitution Explained: A Guide for Every American (Visible Ink Press, 2022) and The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (Thomson Reuters, 2012).
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