First, let me say that I do not endorse the term "Truck Nuts." However, that seems to be the god-given name of the product that is the subject of this blog post. Thus, I will refer to the product the way it was branded.
On July 5, 2001, Virginia Tice of Bonneau, S.C, pulled into a local gas station with red ”truck nuts” hanging from her trailer hitch. To explain, “truck nuts” are fake bull testicles made of plastic or metal that can be hung from the trailer hitch of trucks, or other vehicles, I suppose. The usual intent of placing this product on a vehicle has been described to me by acquaintances as "making the truck more 'manly'." On the day in question, Bonnneau's police chief, Franco Fuda, pulled in behind the 65 year-old Ms. Tice and asked her to remove the plastic testicles from her vehicle. When Ms. Tice refused, Chief Fuda wrote her a $445 ticket for violating South Carolina’s Obscene Bumper Sticker Law.
South Carolina Code of Laws Section 56-5-3885 states that, “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; and taken as a whole, it lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Ms. Tice hired an attorney, but not before Chief Fuda moved for a jury trial in hopes of clarifying South Carolina’s obscenity laws and preventing misinterpretation. Chief Fuda believes that he has correctly applied the statute and that he will prevail in court. Ms. Tice’s attorney, Scott Bischoff, seems to believe otherwise. Mr. Bischoff intends to argue whether the large, plastic testicles are actually an accurate depiction of a human body part. Mr. Bischoff, who says that the Chief is “arbitrarily interpreting a statute incorrectly,” is not the only person who believes that the law was misused.
The case has thrown the state of South Carolina the national media spotlight by sparking a debate over whether “truck nuts” violate indecency laws or if attempting to regulate them violates the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Jay Bender, attorney and professor at University of South Carolina, noted that although they may be tasteless and stupid, they are not illegal. He adds that the statute is very clear about what is obscene and “it doesn’t have anything to do with artificial bull testicles.”
First Amendment attorney David Hudson believes that Ms. Tice has a good case because the South Carolina law is “unconstitutionally broad and vague and violates the first Amendment.” He also noted that in cases in other states where law enforcement officials cited individuals for contents of their bumper stickers, most were tossed out because of the great deal of protection that is offered by the First Amendment regarding offensive expression. He also added that the Supreme Court has made it clear that expression of an idea cannot be prohibited because society finds it to be offensive or disagreeable.
At first glance, this case is seemingly insignificant, and as people throughout the country have been expressing, a waste of time. It is important to remember that every major Court decision starts somewhere, and that even a case dealing with “truck nuts” could have a substantial impact on policy. Cohen v. California, which is now one of the most well-known First Amendment rights cases, started over Robert Cohen being arrested for wearing a jacket that said “F*ck The Draft” in the Los Angeles Courthouse. Surely there were not many people who had the foresight that the case would go all the way to the United States Supreme Court and lead to a major decision regarding obscene speech. Not to say that this case will ever go that far, but it is just something to consider before dismissing the importance of the “truck nuts” case. And, after all, we should all relish an opportunity to have some fun when the law extends the invitation.
Feel free to post your thoughts and/or comments.
Adam W. Howell, Esquire