Manatee loud music lovers applaud Supreme Court decision

skennedy@bradenton.comDecember 18, 2012 

BRADENTON -- It was time to celebrate at Mad Marks, where employees in every nook and cranny were installing high-powered audio systems in shiny vehicles.

Thanks to an early Christmas present from the Florida Supreme Court, those who enjoy such systems costing up to $30,000 each can now play music from their vehicles as loudly as they like without fear of a legal penalty.

The court last week struck down a state statute regulating noise from car audio systems, citing the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment protection of free speech.

The court sided with a St. Petersburg attorney, who had challenged a $73.50 citation he got for playing a Justin Timberlake tune from his car too loudly in November 2007.

"Everybody's definition of 'loud' is different," explained Mark Turk, president of Mad Marks Stereo Warehouse at 3007 First St., Bradenton. "Because everybody should respect each other, how loud somebody plays their music is their own business.

"I'm very pleased with the court's decision, it's only fair to the customers," Turk added.

Still, the high court ruling only applies to owners of vehicle sound systems. Other types of noise, such as construction site racket, barking dogs, or a wild house

party remain regulated by local ordinances, according to county and city of Bradenton attorneys.

Meanwhile at Mad Marks, customers shopped for Christmas gifts designed to play music at ear-splitting volume.

Some of the pricier speakers crackled with as much as 10,000 watts of power, and some systems were installed in what normally was the back seat or the trunk of a car.

Boaters could buy a fancy system embedded in a fake ice chest.

Turk said some of his customers have received noise citations issued under the authority of the state statute struck down last week. Some just paid fines repeatedly, and continued to blast their way down the road, Turk added.

"Local law enforcement does occasionally cite people for violation of this particular state statute, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office does occasionally cite people," agreed Manatee County Attorney Mitchell O. "Mickey" Palmer. "I don't think it's something they do terribly often, but they do it on occasion.

"But obviously, as of this decision, the sheriff needs to stop doing so until the statute is repaired," Palmer said.

The city of Bradenton stopped arresting thoseplaying music too loudly from their cars after a lower court last year declaredthe state statute unconstitutional, said BradentonCity Attorney William Lisch.

"I knew this might be coming," said Lisch. "It means it gets more complicated for us; we'll have to craft an ordinance that takes care of the matter. We probably will ask state legislators to go back and fix this."

Bradenton's local noise ordinance, like the county's, remains in effect. It covers noise violations like barking dogs or lawn mowing after 10 p.m.

Bradenton enforces its local ordinance by relying upon decibel readings, along with the number of complaints and other factors, Lisch explained.

The high court's decision rested on the concept that the law cannot infringe on fundamental rights, according to Bruce Jacob, a professor of constitutional law at Stetson University College of Law.

"The law sweeps too broadly -- it should treat everybody equally," he said.

Another problem was that the statute contained an exemption for commercial and political vehicles using sound devices, but penalized others, Jacob said.

-- This report includes material from Bradenton Herald wire services.

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