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U.S. Supreme Court Sides with Florida Man in Free Speech Case


On June 18th, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of upholding civil rights in a case involved an arrest at a city council meeting in south Florida’s City of Riviera Beach.

The man was originally arrested in retaliation for being an outspoken critic of decisions made by the city; however, he was also initially barred from bringing lawsuit based on the retaliation claim because a jury found that the officer that arrested him had probable cause to do so. On June 18th, the  U.S. Supreme Court ultimately disagreed, finding that the existence of probable cause for his arrest did not bar his First Amendment retaliatory arrest claim.

Probable Cause for Arrest & Retaliation

Ultimately, two major precedents bear on the issue of whether the existence of probable cause for an arrest bars recovery, regardless of retaliation against someone’s past speech. One involves a civil case in which protected speech is a “but-for” cause of a retaliatory action (such as employment termination), and the other requires that a plaintiff alleging retaliatory prosecution must demonstrate the absence of probable cause for the underlying criminal charge.

However, the Court ultimately found that the current claim was “far afield” from the typical retaliatory arrest claim that might have fit into one of these two precedents because the plaintiff had to prove the existence and enforcement of an official policy motivated by retaliation. The City, conversely, had to prove that it would have arrested the plaintiff regardless of any retaliatory animus (i.e. regardless of any desire to get back at him for previously criticizing the City). The plaintiff’s challenge was unusually narrow and only challenged the lawfulness of his arrest; i.e. that the arrest violated the First Amendment because it was ordered in retaliation for his earlier, protected speech (i.e. his criticisms of city officials and their decisions). The plaintiff here did not bring a retaliation claim against the arresting officer, but rather claimed that the City itself retaliated against him via intimidation and a plan to order his arrest for the sole purpose of intimidating him in retaliation for his criticisms of city officials.

Florida Civil Rights & Criminal Rights Attorneys

As we have discussed previously, citizens frequently are retaliated against for exercising their free speech rights, and this does often involve arresting them for “disorderly conduct” even when they are simply stating their opinion.

It is important to understand just how strong your First Amendment rights are in terms of prohibiting government officials from retaliating against you for engaging in protected speech. However, as the Court points out, it can be difficult for all courts to discern whether an arrest was caused by the officer’s legitimate or illegitimate consideration of speech. That is why it is crucial to work with an experienced attorney if you have been the victim of this persecution. Contact our attorneys at the Baez Law Firm today to find out more.


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