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Florida Court Declares Loud Stereo Statute Unconstitutional

In May 2011, the Second District Court of Appeals ruled that the Florida Statute which makes it unlawful to have your car stereo plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet or more from the motor vehicle is unconstitutional. The Court stated that the term “plainly audible” is too vague and invites arbitrary enforcement. Additionally, the Court stated that this statute was a restriction on free speech.

Florida Statute 316.3045 makes it unlawful to operate a motor vehicle with sound emanating from your car’s stereo system if it is plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet or more from the motor vehicle. This violation is handled as a civil traffic infraction and requires payment of a fine in the event you are found guilty. However, because this is a traffic offense, police use this as a reason to justify stopping vehicles traveling down the roadways that are not committing any other infraction or violation of law. Subsequent to the traffic stop, additional investigation focuses on issues such as determining whether the driver is under the influence of alcohol, whether the driver possesses any contraband or passenger compartment of the vehicle contains any contraband, and whether or not the driver has a valid driver’s license.


Prior to 2005, the statute only made it a violation of law if the sound was plainly audible at a distance of 100 feet or more. While it is not clear why the State Legislature sought to reduce the distance from 100 feet to 25 feet, it is clear that this lesser standard has increased the opportunity for law enforcement to justify stopping vehicles traveling down the highway in an otherwise lawful manner. Now that this statute has been declared unconstitutional, law enforcement will need to focus on other traffic violations.


Free Speech

This same statute has an exception that states the law does not apply to motor vehicles which are being used for business or political purposes. In reviewing this exception, the Court noted that commercial and political speech may emanate from a vehicle at a louder volume than any other type of speech which, in the court’s opinion, made the statute a content based restriction on free speech. The law as it is written would allow someone sitting at a red light to be blasting political talk radio at a volume clearly audible from half a mile away while an individual sitting in their personal vehicle listening to James Taylor audible at a distance of only 26 feet away would be subject to a citation. Since different forms of speech were receiving different treatment under this statute, the Court found that it was a content based restriction on free expression which violates the first amendment.


Effect of the Court Ruling

It is likely that the legislature will revisit the wording of this statute when it returns to session to discuss what changes, if any, could withstand a future attack in Court. Additionally, the District Court of Appeals has certified the question for further review as it addresses constitutionally based issues that may have far reaching implications beyond persons who choose to drive down the road cranking their stereo. As of this date, there has been no further court action.  


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