Lewd Statements to Woman in Front of Her Boyfriend Can Be Unprotected “Fighting Words”
The “fighting words” First Amendment exception generally allows the punishment of personal face-to-face insults that are likely to provoke a fight; usually, they involve a risk that the target would throw a punch (or worse), but the risk could also stem from third parties connected to the target, and from statements that are seen as personally offensive even if they aren’t literal insults. State v. Riley, decided in 2017 by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals (by Presiding Judge Paul Lundsten and Judges Brian Blanchard and Michael Fitzpatrick) but for some reason just posted on Westlaw, illustrates this well:
Riley was charged with disorderly conduct, substantial battery, and two counts of felony bail jumping, all as a repeater, after a fight that originated in a tavern. According to the complaint, Riley made “inappropriate” comments about the victim’s girlfriend, which led to an altercation in the tavern. After the fight broke up, Riley and an associate subsequently attacked the victim outside the tavern. At trial, witnesses testified to the comments made by Riley while still inside the tavern that were directed at the victim’s girlfriend, who was a bartender at the tavern.
The victim’s girlfriend testified that Riley is related to her former boyfriend and that Riley’s friend had asked her if she was dating the victim. She testified that Riley later approached her at the bar and made a vulgar comment about her vagina. Riley then stated loudly, while looking directly at her, that he was planning to “take that bartender home and fuck her that night.” The victim testified that he heard Riley announce that he was “going to fuck the shit out of the ba
Article from Reason.com