You don’t expect to come to a legal blog for some Uber humor. Right?
And much like leaping into an Uber, let’s leap right in to our topic today. I thought I would get crazy and actually write about a case where the Virginia Supreme Court is going to rule. (Richmond.com)
The Supreme Court of Virginia is scheduled to hear arguments this week over whether a man broke the law, when he hung a black-faced dummy in his front yard. It is a question of free speech versus intimidation.
Why is this getting attention? As background, from 1877 to 1950, there were more than 4,000 lynchings of African-Americans in Southern states. 84 of those were in Virginia.
In 2015, Jack Eugene Turner was convicted of violating a state law that specifically prohibits hanging a noose to intimidate. He used a rope to hang an effigy of a black man from a tree in his front yard in 2015 in plain view of the street. A black stuffed dummy hanging from a rope! Is that free speech?
Not surprisingly, Turner is white. He was upset at his black neighbors.
On the circuit court level, Turner got six months in jail for violating the “noose statute”. He argues that his free speech rights were violated and that state law only bars displays of nooses on public land, not private property. His conviction was affirmed at the Appellate Courts. Now, his case heads to the Virginia Supreme Court.
The Virginia attorneys disagree, arguing that the noose was meant to intimidate, and did instill fear in his neighbors. His attorney disagrees.
“While race relations are at the forefront of nearly every news cycle, courts should not stray from following the law as it is written, albeit at times unpopular or controversial. The law in this matter is clear,” wrote Turner’s lawyer, C. Holland Perdue III.
In asking the justices to hear the case, Perdue wrote in his appellate brief, “While I agree with the court of appeals and the trial court’s rationale that hanging a noose and a ‘dummy’ is reprehensible and offensive, both have erred on the side of public opinion and not the law. Poor and distasteful speech must be protected.”
He went on to write,“Private property affords the owner exclusive and absolute rights to display any symbol or symbols regardless of how reprehensible or offensive we may find them and these symbols are protected speech“.
According to the article, Christopher P. Schandevel, an assistant attorney general, wrote to the supreme court justices that, “Turner hung a black-faced dummy in a noose from a tree in his front yard to intimidate his African-American neighbors, with whom he had been feuding.”
“The display had its intended effect — causing Turner’s neighbors to fear that Turner might harm them or their children,” Schandevel reported. “Expressive conduct is generally protected by the First Amendment, but expressive conduct that communicates a ‘true threat’ is not. Intimidation constitutes a ‘true threat’ when it is designed to place people in fear of death or bodily harm,” he wrote.
Originally, Turner was convicted of violating the 2009 Virginia law that bars the display of a noose on a highway or other public place “in a manner having a direct tendency to place another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury.” The charge is a Class 6 felony. That is the conviction that he is appealing.
The briefs set forth the arguments well. All I can say is, can you imagine coming home to a neighbor who has that hanging in his yard?
And for pic o’ day, because we are currently hiring additional lawyers and staff, this seemed topical… and it made me laugh: