According to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a Milwaukee mother deserves the six months in jail she was sentenced to for using profanity in her home.
Ginger Breitzman was convicted in 2013 of child abuse-intentionally causing harm, child neglect, and disorderly conduct for swearing at her son in her private home. The state’s Supreme Court upheld that conviction on Friday.
After her fourteen-year old son burnt some popcorn, Breitzman swore at him, but didn’t threaten him or illicit violence against him, and didn’t even touch him.
Nevertheless, a Milwaukee County jury found her guilty of several convictions and sentenced her to six months in jail.
Apparently, the jury was under the ridiculous impression that disorderly conduct can occur in private places, that brief swearing over burnt popcorn counts as child abuse, and that profanity isn’t protected by the First Amendment when it’s used in your own private home.
Before you roll your eyes, remember that this is serious, and an innocent woman’s life has been ruined over a trivial thing she’d be allowed to do if her rights were acknowledged in her home state.
This isn’t the Onion. This isn’t an absurdist novel. This is Wisconsin. The state’s justice system ultimately humiliated themselves further when the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Breitzman’s conviction.
In case you’re wondering, no, Saudi Arabia did not recently annex Milwaukee.
Okay, now you can roll your eyes.
Journal Sentinel reports:
The court seemed to take keen interest in the case during oral arguments in September and took 50 pages to render its decision.
A Milwaukee County jury convicted Ginger Breitzman, 44, of child abuse-intentionally causing harm, child neglect and disorderly conduct. The last count was for profanely berating and insulting her 14-year-old son after he burned some popcorn.
The boy had been talking to a friend at the time, who heard the tirade over the phone.
Breitzman, who was sentenced to six months in jail with release privileges, appealed the disorderly conduct conviction. She argued her lawyer was ineffective for not challenging the charge as a violation of her free speech rights. The state argued her lawyer was not obligated to raise such a far-fetched theory.
In the end, the Supreme Court agreed with the state and decided Breitzman’s attorney was not ineffective.
“Thus, while this case touches on an interesting issue of free speech law, we reserve full analysis of what constitutes profane speech and whether profane speech is otherwise protected as free speech for another day,” Justice Annette Ziegler wrote for the majority.
Breitzman made a number of challenges to her court case which were analyzed by the Supreme Court.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court decided that her lawyer wasn’t required to bring up the First Amendment, and according to the Assistant Attorney General, it shouldn’t even be a focus for the case.
Justice Michael Gableman questioned if the state should be arbitrating disorderly conduct in disputes that occur in private homes.
Previous cases have found that private conduct can be disorderly if there’s a spillover effect, said Assistant Attorney General Donald Latorraca. Breitzman’s son confided in a friend and a school official about his mother’s behavior.
Justice Ann Bradley raised concerns that the court’s decision could affect domestic violence cases if the court suggests that individuals can do whatever they want in their own home.
Latorraca said the court shouldn’t focus on free speech, but on whether Breitzman’s attorney was ineffective by not raising the First Amendment defense at trial.
The court is expected to take a few weeks before reaching a decision.
Breitzman was also charged with child abuse that intentionally caused harm and child neglect.
The “spillover effect” apparently means that any act done in private could be “disorderly conduct” unless it’s kept a secret.
Does Latorraca mean to suggest that disorderly conduct is defined by who hears about an otherwise lawful act? One becomes a criminal as soon as somebody far away hears that one swears at home?
Furthermore, is Justice Bradley saying that mothers, fathers, wives, and husbands can’t say whatever they want in their own homes so long as they’re not making violent threats or inciting criminal activity? If so, what sort of thing shouldn’t a mother be legally allowed to say to her teenage son, according to our newfound overlords?
If Justice Bradley is concerned about interpreting laws, she should make things easier on the people of Wisconsin and release a list of State-approved words that can be used in the living room without being arrested. Is that sillier than putting a mother in jail for cussing in her kitchen? I honestly can’t tell.
There are many questions to be answered here, and unfortunately the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the incompetent jury members who decided Breitzman’s case get to make up the answers.