Recently a proposed state law passed one of the many hurdles it takes to put it on the books and some people are irate. The law, which establishes the crime of aggravated harassment of a police officer or peace officer as a class E felony, uses the word “annoy” as part of its definition of intent and people have latched onto that like a grizzly bear’s head getting stuck in a jar of honey. While I concur that “annoy” is a poor word choice I do find it slightly amusing that people are jumping on it with such vigorous enthusiasm. The law, they argue, makes it a felony to annoy a police officer and therefore is unjust. The thing is, it doesn’t do that at all. The actual text of the law reads as follows: “A person is guilty of aggravated harassment of a police officer or peace officer when, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm a person whom he or she knows or reasonably should know to be a police officer or peace officer engaged in the course of performing his or her official duties, he or she strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects such person to physical contact.”
Now, that doesn’t mean, as some people seem to think it does, that if a cop is simply annoyed with someone they can legally charge them with a felony. Instead, the law is applicable to a situation in which ... let’s say a cop is arresting someone ... and another individual walks up to the police officer and intentionally shoves them in an effort to disrupt said police officer from carrying out his or her duty.
Still, as I have said, I agree that “annoy” was a poor word choice. It would seem to me that a clearer way of defining intent, in this instance, would have been to say with malicious intent and while knowing that an individual was a law enforcement agent, a person did strike that individual. Or something like that. “Annoy” is an arguably soft verb which probably was purposefully chosen for its vague nature because it will give attorneys on both sides more wiggle room when presenting their cases.
Nevertheless, arguments have been made by a number of people that the law is gratuitous, ambiguously worded, and even potentially dangerous. While it may not be a critically necessary law, if used properly it will serve as an extra layer of protection for public servants who are in the course of fulfilling their duties. That being said, looking at the law as a whole, I don’t see how it is vaguely worded. I think people read the first half of the text and stopped, and if the law did end with the definition of intent then yeah, I would have to agree that it is a bogus law. But that isn’t the case. Instead the first portion only serves to define the intent portion of the law, a critical part, but by no means the enterity of the lew. There rest of the law is equally if not even more important for its interpretation. People are not going to be arrested for just irritating cops. Police will be within their rights, however, to bring a criminal complaint against an individual who irritates them by say kicking them between the legs.
Now to those who are worried about misuse of the law, I say the law doesn’t provide any new way for officials to abuse the legal system, should they feel so inclined. That is and always will be an issue with individuals, not the legal system.
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