Everyone has an annoying friend, or at least an annoying acquaintance that doesn’t understand common courtesy or how to conduct themselves appropriately in public settings. Some people are unlucky enough to know of or to be harassed by an annoying enemy that pursues a personal vendetta well past the point of acceptable interaction. Annoying people have a gift, or curse depending on your perspective, that precludes them from feeling any guilt for their selfish behavior.
Most people will not hesitate to admit that they attempt to limit their exposure to annoying individuals. In extreme cases, sometimes the targets of annoying people are forced to change their phone number or email address in order to cut off a relationship with a particularly bothersome person that neglects to understand their company or correspondence is not wanted.
Being an annoying person in New York used to be enough to warrant a felony charge, until this week. On Tuesday the Court of Appeals in Albany ruled against a statute that made it a felony to communicate with someone “in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.”
The NY Times reports:
In striking down the statute on aggravated harassment dealing with speech that was merely annoying or alarming, the judges unanimously ruled that the law was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. They cited another court’s ruling that “any proscription of pure speech must be sharply limited to words which, by their utterance alone, inflict injury or tend naturally to evoke immediate violence.” Mere annoying speech, the lingua franca of many New Yorkers, was not enough.
The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., called the aggravated harassment statute “one of the most important tools we have to protect victims of, among other serious crimes, stalking and domestic violence.”
“Last year,” Mr. Vance continued in a statement, “there were approximately 900 people charged in Manhattan with this crime; many of these cases are pending. We will now work with advocates, our partners in law enforcement, and state lawmakers to address the potential implications of this ruling.”
How can there be a crime if no property is stolen or damaged and no violent acts have occurred? The First Amendment protects free speech, but the Bill of Rights should not be the only method used to validate that speech should not be punished with force by the State. The principles of natural law tell us that if you have not aggressed upon another’s property or person, then you have not committed a crime. The act of uttering annoying speech or sending pestering emails does not violate the rights of other individuals. This doesn’t stop individuals or groups from using voluntary contracts to keep “annoying” behaviors out of their businesses or social gatherings.