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Connecticut Reaffirms Right to Curse at Supermarket Clerks

"Hate speech" is not a crime, Connecticut Supreme Court reminds overzealous prosecutors.

Darwin Bell/FlickrDarwin Bell/FlickrThere's no "hate speech" exception to the First Amendment, but that doesn't stop some overzealous authorities from acting as if there is. Nina Baccala was convicted in 2013 for calling a Connecticut grocery store manager "fat" and "ugly" during an argument. But now Baccala's right to free speech has been avenged by the state's Supreme Court.

On July 7, the court agreed with Baccala's lawyers that insulting and cursing at a store manager does not count as using "fighting words," and thus are not exempted from First Amendment protection.

The case stems from a 2013 incident at a Stop & Shop grocery store in Vernon, Connecticut. After a store manager told Baccala it was too late to process a wire transfer, Baccala lost her temper and began berating the employee. She was eventually convicted of breaching the peace, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 25 days in jail. She appealed.

Last week, Connecticut's seven Supreme Court justices agreed unanimously that Baccala's conviction should be overturned, although three justices believed there should be a new trial. The majority ruled in favor of acquittal.

While Baccala's speech was "offensive" and "meant to personally demean" the store manager, neither of those things is criminal, wrote Justice Andrew McDonald for the majority. "Uttering a cruel or offensive word is not a crime unless it would tend to provoke a reasonable person to immediately retaliate with violence," he explained.

The decision noted that retail employees "are routinely confronted by disappointed, frustrated customers who express themselves in angry terms" and that this is exactly the sort of situation that people in customer-facing management positions "are expected to diffuse."

Photo Credit: Darwin Bell/Flickr

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  • Hugh Akston||

    Question: Was the manager in question actually fat and ugly? Because truth is an absolute defense in slander/defamation cases.

  • Meh.||

    Eh, both of those words could be considered subjective.

  • Zeb||

    Well then it's even easier. Was he fat and ugly according to Baccala's subjective judgement?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Was Baccala just being tsundere?

  • Quixote||

    Neither good faith nor truth is a "defense" in any case involving inappropriately deadpan "parody" disseminated with the alleged intent to damage a reputation. See the documentation of America's leading criminal "satire" case at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • IceTrey||

    Not if you use the governments BMI chart.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I'm sorry, but if we cannot enforce a law as clear cut and comprehensively defined as "breaching the peace" then words no longer have any meaning and as a society we're just asking for anarchy.

  • brokencycle||

    I, for one, don't want to live in such a society. Don't apologize.

  • Dillinger||

    'bout time.

  • Crusty Juggler > You||

    While Baccala's speech was "offensive" and "meant to personally demean" the store manager, neither of those things is criminal, wrote Justice Andrew McDonald for the majority. "Uttering a cruel or offensive word is not a crime unless it would tend to provoke a reasonable person to immediately retaliate with violence," he explained.

    Why was this even a thing?

  • Zeb||

    It really shouldn't be.

    A reasonable person does not react to mere words with violence (at least according to how I would define reasonable). The "fighting words" doctrine is bullshit. No speech compels or justifies a person to use violence (unless it's an actual assault, in which case se;f-defense is reasonable). The decision that established it is BS too. Some street preacher called a local government official a "damn fascist" or something along those lines.

  • BYODB||

    "I'm going to shoot you with this gun I have, within your plain sight, in 3 seconds. 3...2...1..."

    But yeah, realistically I'm not so sure.

  • Zeb||

    I'm pretty sure that's assault.

  • Griffin3||

    Even in this case, the words should not be criminalized. It's always better to have the warning. [So you can shoot on "2"]

  • Chili Dogg||

    Yeah, after reading that, I was wondering why a "reasonable" person would "immediately retaliate with violence" over some words said to him or her. Sounds a bit contradictory. It's subjective, open to interpretation, and can be abused, like other laws, such as "public disturbance", "breaching the peace", etc., by police who don't really understand the law. And does that statement mean that someone is legally allowed to kick my ass because I said something that they didn't like?? Would that person be arrested or not if I used so-called "fighting words"?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Baccala lost her temper and began berating the employee. She was eventually convicted of breaching the peace, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 25 days in jail. She appealed.

    No, i don't think so.

  • Libertarian||

    OT.

    Come on, guys. You know you want it. The dress, I mean.

    "Lena Dunham is selling the dress she says she cried in on election night last year, when President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

    The Kenzo ruffle-accented printed dress is one of more than a hundred items up for grabs from the former "Girls" star as part of a sale on the RealReal, an online fashion consignment store."

    http://thehill.com/blogs/in-th.....ight-trump

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    Ugh. What is with you people and Lena Dunham?

  • albo||

    She's the fiery car wreck on the other side of the highway, with fireworks in the trunk going off and screaming clowns emerging from the back seat in flames. Tell me you're not going to slow down to watch.

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    I don't care for the silly trivialities of pop culture.

  • DenverJ||

    But, fireworks and burning clowns!

  • Libertarian||

    Well for me, personally, it's her new lesbian haircut.

  • albo||

    You know there has to be a porn film out there with a Dunham lookalike. Rule 34 and all.

  • Ska||

    But watching transgender porn is so unsatisfying. I know it's just a dude with fake tits.

  • DenverJ||

    Whatayamean "you people"?

  • Meh.||

    That caption on the Instagram post though...

  • Mickey Rat||

    Her wardrobe does not fit anymore, does it?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    You just know that thing smells terrible.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Diluted vinegar, spilled white wine, and cheese culture.

  • Libertarian||

    I'm suddenly feeling a bit peckish.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    For kæstur hákarl? Me too.

  • Entropy Drehmaschine Void||

    Diluted vinegar, spilled white wine, and cheese culture.

    Don't forget "Yeasty."

  • Libertarian||

    "And now, 'The Handmaid's Tale' just seems too real," she said. "It's a very, very challenging moment to be a woman in America."

    Compared to when????

  • Mickey Rat||

    I am still trying to figure out how Trump, of all GOP politicians, represents anything in that story.

  • MarkLastname||

    The Handmaid's tale is as prescient social commentary on modern America as the remake of Red Dawn is a realistic take on international affairs.

    Actually, I think Trump is marginally less likely to bring about a Christian torture porn theocracy than North Korea is to take over the whole country.

  • ||

    why in the world would you think your comment is off topic? this is a thread about fat and ugly.

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    Alt text contest!!!!!

    "Oh my God it's a shirtless Chuck Schumer!"

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    "Sleeves in the Speaker's lobby!"

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    "Ivanka's took his seat!"

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    "Why does he always equivocate!"

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    You want me to pay for my birth control!"

  • Libertarian||

    I am Lena Dunham's vagina. Don't you dare touch me!

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    "Hate speech isn't free speech!"

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    "What do you mean you don't watch Game of Thrones!"

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    "You circumcised your baby!"

  • Crusty Juggler - Obama momma||

    "You want me to do what on your chest!"

  • Ska||

    OUTLANDER!!!!!!!

  • ||

    Soooo, what did she win?

  • Mickey Rat||

    I guess the store manager did not ask her to leave when she became verbally abusive? Since even free speech should not protect her from trespassing charges[ once invoked.

  • Jerryskids||

    She was convicted of breaching the peace, not trespassing, which means some dumbass prosecutor ought to be smacked upside the head. I know they've got that immunity thing going that makes them think they can make up whatever evidence they want, but they can't (yet) just make up laws.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Right, I was wondering why she was not charged with trespassing. I presume it was because the manager did not explicitly ask her to leave.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    The decision noted that retail employees "are routinely confronted by disappointed, frustrated customers who express themselves in angry terms" and that this is exactly the sort of situation that people in customer-facing management positions "are expected to diffuse."

    I would train employees to defuse those sorts of situations instead.

  • Meh.||

    Gotta raise hate speech awareness somehow!

  • Rhywun||

    LOL. You're talking about minimum-wage, unskilled teenagers for the most part. The most you can expect from them is to figure out the cash register and to make correct change.

  • Longtobefree||

    They can only make correct change if the register tells them how.
    So just the one thing.
    Oh, wait; the register can dispense change without the clerk, but the clerk cannot dispense change without the register. And one of them never takes time off or calls in sick. And the other one wants $15.00 and hour plus benefits, and requires paying payroll taxes. Wonder which one I will keep?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    No, the word "diffuse" is correct. Get some other people involved and spread the anger around a bit.

  • Jerryskids||

    Diffuse might be the right word, if you're speaking of running them through a woodchipper.

    Back in my younger days, I got a job at a store. I did not last long. When the manager asked me why I was quitting, I told him the only way I'd stay is if I was allowed to start punching people in the face. Customers should be treated the same way they treat the employees. And any place that features any kind of banners or slogans or anything that claims they put customers #1 is a place you do not want to be because it means they treat the employees like shit. If I'm trading the shopkeeper a dollar for a coke, he's doing me just as much a favor by giving me the coke for a dollar as I am doing him a favor by giving him a dollar for the coke, we should each be grateful to the other, neither one of us is doing the other some big favor that allows us to treat the other like shit.

  • Rhywun||

    I had a bunch of those jobs. Pure misery, every one of them. I don't deal with the public any more.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Avoid the public at all costs. Double avoid middle to lower income public.

  • Rhywun||

    Sad but true.

  • Zeb||

    If I'm trading the shopkeeper a dollar for a coke, he's doing me just as much a favor by giving me the coke for a dollar as I am doing him a favor by giving him a dollar for the coke

    Sort of. But in most cases there's another store you could buy your Coke from nearby if you aren't pleased with the service at his store.

  • Longtobefree||

    There is a Dilbert comic I just love. Dogbert is doing his consultant speech and says "The customer is always right"
    Then he says "And we must punish him for this arrogance!"

  • Zeb||

    "The customer is always right" is clearly not true. It's really just a nice way to say "try to be nice to our asshole customers".

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    although three justices believed there should be a new trial.

    For what?

  • Joao||

    In other CT news:

    Stop n Shop now required to service disruptive customers...

  • Domina Elle||

    Get it over with. Criminalize dickish and rude behavior and while you're at it, criminalize stupidity. Then make sure to build double the prisons as what we have now- no triple it- because we will need those prisons.

    Yes I'm kidding.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Breaching the Piece was my nickname in college

  • pan fried wylie||

    "Breeches Pieces" in reference to the popular candy.

  • jdgalt1||

    That last word should be "defuse." Diffuse is an adjective, not a verb.

  • pan fried wylie||

    I've actually had the defuse/diffuse-a-situation argument before, and without being a master of where phrases come from I wasn't able to resolve which was the correct version of the popular phrase. I think people say both, and honestly, I think they both work to describe removing/deescalating tension.

    for jdgalt: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/diffuse

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