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Is Barking at Police Dogs Protected Free Speech?

By Adam Ramirez on April 25, 2011 9:49 AM

An Ohio man charged with teasing a police dog by barking at it had his constitutional right to free speech violated, his attorney says.

Ryan J. Stephens, 25, of Mason, was charged April 3 with a misdemeanor under a city law prohibiting teasing a police dog.

His attorney, Jim Hardin, said Stephens was not striking the animal named Timber or the police car, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Friday.

"It was simply barking," Hardin said. "And, whether you consider that to be intelligent speech or not, it's still speech."

A Mason police officer investigating a car crash at a pub in the Cincinnati suburb reported that he heard the dog barking uncontrollably, the AP reports. Officer Bradley Walker reported finding Stephens with his face a few inches from the police car's rear window, making barking noises and hissing at the dog.

Walker quoted Stephens as saying "the dog started it."

"It was evident that Mr. Stephens was highly intoxicated based on his body movements, strong odor of alcohol and slurred speech," Walker wrote.

Hardin also argues that probable cause is required for officers to stop someone.

No tests were done to back up the allegation of intoxication, and Stephens was "simply an individual who was walking away from a bar," Hardin told the AP.

Hardin plans to make his arguments in Mason Municipal Court, but no court date has been set, the newspaper reports. Stephens could get up to 60 days in jail if convicted.

Police Chief Ron Ferrell wouldn't discuss the case, but told the AP there is a good reason for the law. Police dogs may get hurt trying to get through a window or the cage separating the front and back seats, he told the newspaper.

"They are going to do anything they can do to try to do the job they are hired to do," Ferrell told the AP.

Giver Ryan Stephens' attorney points for creativity here. Equating barking to free speech is a novel argument. And our criminal justice systems allows all kinds of attorneys to make all sorts of arguments in court. Whether the U.S. Constitution is being wielded correctly in this Ohio municipal court remains to be seen, however.

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