Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Playing music

People tend to get annoyed when the neighbors play loud music. But do the melodious malefactors deserve to go to jail for it?

Disturbing the peace is a term that most people are familiar with, but it is also frequently misunderstood, even by law enforcement. Scott Martin lost a day's wages and a day of his life as a result of this.

Martin, now owner of an auto mechanic business, spent nearly a day in jail in 2003, though he had broken no law. His friends held band practice twice a week at Martin's Bokeelia, Fla. home. Though they always finished by 8 p.m., the Lee County Sheriff's Office told him to turn it down three times, threatening arrest the third time.

After the last visit, Martin took a look at the county code and discovered that the noise ordinance took effect at midnight. It was some time after midnight that a sheriff's deputy knocked on his door, waking him up.

"Get your things," the deputy said. "You're going to jail."

Martin protested, citing the ordinance. But the deputy ignored him and repeated his intention to arrest him. After entering his house without a warrant or invitation, the deputy handcuffed him, put him in his car, closed the windows, lit a cigarette and blasted loud rap music for the whole drive to the nearest sheriff's substation. The charge: disturbing the peace.

Martin felt "completely enraged," though he didn't show it.

"In the back of my head, I knew that I was going to be fine," Martin said.

Scott Martin, thrilled to be a
guest of the Lee County
Sheriff's Office
After being booked at the county jail, Martin found himself in a waiting room with about 40 suspects wearing orange jumpsuits. He stood out in his Mr. Clean T-shirt. After spending the night there, he was dead last on the next day's arraignment docket.

When it was finally his turn at about noon, county judge Hugh E. Starnes noted the charge of disturbing the peace and asked Martin what he had done. The response gave the judge a double-take.

"Say that again? You mean to tell me that you got arrested for playing music?"

That seemed to fire Starnes up - in a good way. He explained that disturbing the peace refers to the public peace, not somebody's house.

"That doesn't affect me," Martin said. "I'm in the privacy of my own home."

But arrests for disturbing the peace happen all too often. It's a common misconception that being loud or even annoying constitutes disturbing the peace. It does not.

And even in communities with strict noise ordinances, what does an arrest accomplish that a citation does not?

Judge Starnes instructed the guard to free Martin.

"You do not deserve to be here another minute," Starnes said. "You need to be out of here immediately.

Unfortunately, Martin's incarceration would not end for another six hours as he waited in a room for the jail officials to complete their "paperwork." To add insult to injury, the $28.52 he had in his wallet was gone when he recovered his belongings. Martin contacted an attorney, but he was advised that a trial to recover a day's pay and some cash would be more trouble than it was worth.

One positive that came out of the incident, though, was that Starnes promised that the deputy who arrested Martin would be strongly reprimanded.

"I've never seen him out (near my house) since then," Martin said.

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