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Zombies Have Fourth Amendment Rights, Too

Howard Bashman over at How Appealing picked up on an 8th Circuit case decided yesterday, ruling in favor of seven people who had been arrested in Minneapolis for protesting "consumerism" by dressing up like zombies and plodding around during the 2006 Aquatennial.

The court ruled (PDF) that the police had no probable cause to arrest the undead for disorderly conduct. The fact that those arrested were, at the time, engaged in First Amendment-protected expressive activities matters in applying the disorderly conduct statute, the court said. Yes, these people might have been painted white, covered in fake blood, dragging their feet and moaning over a portable sound system, but "the likelihood was great that the plaintiffs’ artistic and symbolic message would be understood by those who viewed the protest."

The police could not even fall back on qualified immunity; they should damn well have known that there was no probable cause to arrest the defendants, said the 8th Circuit. How could they have been so sure? Because who hasn't read the case where the Minnesota Supreme Court decided that even "protesting homosexuality by riding [a] horse through a crowd gathered to celebrate National Coming Out Day, shouting anti-homosexual statements, swinging a rope, and knocking over signs advertising the event" is constitutionally protected?

Apparently, the cops trumped up some other charges against the group as well, like "display of simulated weapons of mass destruction." You know, an iPod and some speakers. Oh, and did we mention they confiscated the prosthetic leg of one of the zombies, for fear he might use it as a weapon, presumably to crack the skull of one of his jailers in order to more easily get at his brain?

The opinion is good stuff, even though the judges in the majority somehow managed to resist any urge to use zombie puns. Fortunately, James Walsh of the Minneapolis Star Tribune doesn't take himself as seriously in his headline relating the story.

Posted by Eric Lipman on February 25, 2010 at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)


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