Testing the limits of free speech
BONNEAU -- A woman pulled her pickup truck into a gas station in a small town in Berkeley County recently, with big red fake testicles dangling from the trailer hitch.
Bonneau Police Chief Franco Fuda pulled up and wrote her a $445 ticket. Her son said she plans to ask for a jury trial when she goes to traffic court Tuesday.
It's the latest feud over how to interpret a state law that outlaws obscene bumper stickers.
The thing hanging off the back of the truck was about 8 inches long and looked realistic, Fuda said.
"It's pretty eye level of, I imagine, a 4- or 5- or 6-year-old girl walking along holding mommy's hand and turning around and asking, 'Mommy, what's that?' " he said.
He provided a copy of the ticket after a Freedom of Information Act request from The Post and Courier, since traffic tickets are public record.
The ticket was written July 5 to Virginia Tice, a Bonneau resident. Fuda said he would not have written the ticket if Tice had agreed to remove the ornament. When she insisted it was not obscene, he wrote a ticket so a judge can decide, he said.
Tice could not be reached for comment last week.
The ornament on Tice's truck is called Bulls Balls. They're more expensive than the smaller Truck Nutz.
At least three state legislatures -- Virginia, Maryland and Florida -- have debated outlawing the fake testicles, although none has done so.
Some consider the things obscene. Others consider them the ultimate expression of a manly truck.
There's some precedent for Fuda's action in South Carolina.
A Rock Hill officer pulled over a driver for the same offense in December 2009, according to a newspaper report. But it's not clear whether the driver fought that ticket.
Back in the 1990s, S.C. Highway Patrol officers were pulling over drivers for decals of the cartoon character Calvin urinating. A Gaffney couple called for a jury trial, the American Civil Liberties Union defended their right to free speech, and a judge dismissed the case.
It's not clear where the ACLU would come down on displaying fake testicles, South Carolina Executive Director Victoria Middleton said.
"Government officials, including law enforcement, should take care not to criminalize speech or expression based on subjective ideas of what is offensive," she said.
Wilson Kemp has been selling Truck Nutz out of his garage in Port Orange, Fla., for 12 years.
"For a long time I was selling an amazing amount of these things," he said. "Because of the economy, our sales are down like everybody else's."
He said he has heard of a few customers getting tickets for them. Of course, he disagrees.
"Where you going to stop?" he said. "Are you going to make people's pets cover up and farm animals?"
What the law says:
"A sticker, decal, emblem, or device is indecent when taken as a whole, it describes, in a patently offensive way, as determined by contemporary community standards, sexual acts, excretory functions, or parts of the human body."
S.C. Code of Laws 56-5-3885
What law enforcement says:
"The obscenity law is on the books. It's all about interpretation. It comes down to the officer's discretion. I don't know of any of our officers who has ever written a ticket for it."
Summerville Detective Capt. Jon Rogers
"It could fall under the statute. It's up to the discretion of the officer whether that merits enforcement. That could be either telling them to take them off or citing them and let the court decide if it does meet the criteria. I don't know that there are a lot of our folks that worry about them."
Charleston County Sheriff's Maj. Jim Brady
"We don't mess with that. That's not something we get involved with. I think being offensive is very subjective. What's offensive to one person may not be offensive to the other. I don't know that would meet the requirements of being offensive."
Dorchester County Sheriff's Maj. John Garrison