Four-letter fines


Go ahead and break out that George Carlin impersonation, Keystone Staters: You are now free to swear in Pennsylvania.

In October 2008, a motorcyclist swerved close to pedestrian Lona Scarpa, then shouted a profane insult at her. She responded by yelling an insult of her own, then reported the incident to the Pennsylvania State Police. A state trooper cited the motorcyclist—and mailed Scarpa a disorderly conduct notice for swearing. The notice warned that she could face a $300 fine and up to nine days in jail.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania subsequently found that state troopers had handed out roughly 750 citations for foul language or obscene gestures every year. It filed a federal lawsuit against the state police in March 2010, arguing that such citations violate the First Amendment. In January it announced that it had reached a settlement in which the state police agreed not to issue any more citations for profanity.

"Police should be focused on protecting public safety, not enforcing manners," Marieke Tuthill, a legal fellow with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a press release. "It may not be polite to swear at someone, but it's certainly not a crime."