Las Vegas Sun

July 16, 2019

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Court says ordinance on interfering with police is too broad

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled that a Carson City ordinance that prevents people from interfering with an officer making an arrest is unconstitutional because it is too broad.

In a 5-2 decision today, the court overturned the conviction of William A. Scott on a misdemeanor charge of hindering or obstructing an officer in making an arrest, according to court records.

In February 2014, Scott was a passenger in a car that was stopped for allegedly running a stop sign. The officer said he smelled alcohol and asked the driver if he would consent to an alcohol test, according to court records.

Scott interrupted the officer several times and told the driver he didn’t have to do anything the deputy suggested, according to records.

Scott was then arrested for hindering the officer from doing his duty, according to the court records. He was convicted and received a 30-day suspended sentence with probation and a $305 fine, according to court records.

The ordinance says it is unlawful to hinder, obstruct, resist, delay, molest or threaten to hinder, resist, delay or molest any city officer or member of the sheriff’s office in the discharge of official duties.

The court’s decision, authored by Justice Mark Gibbons, said the court agreed with Scott that the ordinance is unconstitutionally too broad because its criminalizes speech protected by the First Amendment.

Gibbons said the ordinance failed to list specific standards and allows deputies to enforce the law “in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.”

He said the ordinance gives deputies “unfettered discretion to arrest individuals for words or conduct that annoy or offend them.”

Chief Justice James Hardesty and Justice Kristina Pickering agreed the Scott’s petition should be granted but disagreed that the ordinance is unconstitutional. The dissent said a new trial should be granted for Scott.

Hardesty said many local governments have similar ordinances. He said the ordinance is ambiguous but it is not unconstitutional.

The ordinance would be valid if it was interpreted to mean the language referred to physical interference with an officer or spoken fighting words, Hardesty said.

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