Starting next month, Florida police will have the power to arrest and ticket more drivers for playing their car stereos too loudly.
“It’s a pretext to fire people for other reasons,” Richard Catalano, 61, a lawyer in St. Petersburg, told me.
The law uses radio noise as a way not only for officers to conduct unwarranted drug searches, but it includes a provision allowing cars to be impounded for up to three days for non-criminal traffic violations if they occur. occur at unauthorized beach parties, which are usually attended. by young black people.
Catalano is more than just a random voice when it comes to playing loud music in a car. In 2007, he received a $73 ticket for playing a Justin Timberlake song too loudly on his car stereo while driving to work.
Rather than pay, the attorney researched Florida law, concluding that agents were allowed to issue tickets to “clearly audible” music from 25 yards away.
“What is 25 feet?” said Catalano. “It’s nothing.”
A strong “rhythmic bass” means trouble
The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles has defined “clearly audible” as follows:
“The officer does not need to determine the particular words or phrases produced or the name of a song or artist producing the sound. Detecting a rhythmic bass reverb type sound is enough to make a clearly audible sound.
Catalano challenged the noise law as a constitutional violation of free speech rights. To support this claim, he and his attorneys pointed to another provision of the Loud Music Act.
It exempted loud music or other sounds from vehicles used for commercial or political purposes. So it wasn’t just the sound level that mattered. It was the goal.
Or as Catalano’s lawyers argued:
“Screaming ice cream trucks and sound trucks broadcasting political messages are not covered by law. They can crank out “Pop Goes the Weasel” to entice kids or broadcast empty political promises that can be heard 500 feet away.
“However, a citizen parked next to the ice cream or sound truck gets a citation if the ‘rhythmic bass’ of their car stereo can even be ‘detected’ from just 25 feet away.”
Florida High Court rejects loud music law
In 2012, Florida’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down the noise law on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment by restricting certain types of speech, rejecting the state’s claim that loud music is a road safety hazard.
“The state is simply arguing that non-commercial vehicles are more dangerous to the public because they are ubiquitous,” Judge Jorge Labarga wrote. “This argument, however, fails to explain how a commercial or political vehicle amplifying commercial or political messages audible from a mile away is less dangerous or more tolerable than a non-commercial vehicle amplifying a religious message audible from a little further twenty-five feet from the vehicle. ”
The law that comes into force on July 1 corrects this by removing the exemption for vehicle noise for political or commercial purposes.
But what makes it suspicious is that the revived loud music law is being summed up as a side issue in a bill that was primarily drafted to stop popup beach parties being promoted to young people on social media.
Music law revived in crackdown on beach parties
Specifically, the new law is a response to last year’s Memorial Day weekend party in Daytona Beach promoted on Facebook and Instagram as “Orlando invades Daytona.”
Thousands of young black people flocked to the beaches, clogging the roads with traffic. Police responded by temporarily closing bridges connecting the mainland to beaches and restricting beach access to local residents.
The following month, another online-promoted event called the Daytona Truck Meet prompted the city to issue beach permits to local residents, as police dealt with the influx of thousands of trucks that created traffic jams and complaints for noise.
The new law designates these pop-up parties of 50 or more people as “special event zones.” Drivers cited in these zones face double the fine for non-criminal traffic violations. More importantly, it allows the seizure of vehicles for up to 72 hours for criminal and non-criminal traffic violations.
Yes, playing your car stereo loud enough that someone 25 feet away can pick up the bass beat is enough for an officer to seize your car for three days.
The amendment to the unconstitutional loud music law has been added to this bill – a clear attempt to deter such large gatherings on the beach and to give police the power to stop, search and seize vehicles for what was once a simple ticket.
Plus, with restored power to stop a car when its radio is audible from a distance equivalent to 20 pins lined up end-to-end, police will have a pretext to conduct unwarranted drug searches anywhere in Florida.
It’s been 10 years since Catalano won his case for playing loud music in his car. He has become more philosophical over the years.
“It’s a balance of interests,” he said. “I am 61 now. The older you get, the more boring you think loud music is.
“But children have to make noise,” he said. “We did that when we were kids.”
Frank Cerabino is a columnist at Palm Beach Post, which is part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at [email protected] Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.