Charges Dropped Against Woman Jailed for Cursing

January 11, 2013

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan applauded a Berrien County Circuit Court decision today dismissing charges against a woman who spent nearly two weeks in jail for criminal contempt because she cursed to herself while leaving the district court clerk’s office.

In early December, Ford, 49, uttered profanities as she walked out of the clerk's office frustrated while trying to clear up an old traffic ticket. When she returned with $50 to take care of the ticket, Judge Dennis Wiley ordered her arrested for cursing in front of court staff. Ford was incarcerated from December 18 through the 28th when the ACLU of Michigan filed an emergency appeal in circuit court to secure her release. At that time, a circuit court judge reduced her bond, however postponed a hearing on the contempt charge.

Today, Circuit Court Judge Charles Lasata dismissed the charges on the grounds that court staff did not follow proper procedures. He did not address the constitutional concerns raised by the ACLU of Michigan.

The following can be attributed to Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney:

“While we are thrilled that this terrible episode is behind Ms. Ford, we also recognize that she will never be able to get the nearly two weeks she spent in jail or Christmas with her family back. The power of the court to hold someone in contempt was designed to protect the judicial process; not to protect judges from criticism or court staff from overhearing distasteful speech. Throwing Ms. Ford in jail for contempt under these circumstances was a complete abuse of power. If free speech means anything, it means that you have the right to express yourself even when you are upset at the government. If we arrest everyone who has ever been frustrated and used foul language, there would be more people in jail than walking our streets.”

Read our brief supporting free speech