If you live in Sarasota, you have mostly likely heard the rock and rap concerts emanating from cars passing by or a stop light, and even from a parking lot at 3 a.m.
These aren't cars that just have their radio turned up a little loud for a cruise, as special amplifiers make every beat and word clear as day, as loud as possible.
Sarasota officials are working to fix a law so officers are able to cite these drivers once again—but at "unreasonable times." A public hearing could be set before the City Commission in February, City Attorney Robert Fournier said at Monday's City Commission meeting.
Sarasota can find some legal room to operate thanks to a Florida Supreme Court decision.
The city had its own noise ordinance regulating the amplified sound from cars, but the state statue preempted any local ordinance.
The Florida Supreme Court overturned the State of Florida vs. Catalano Case on Dec. 13 where Florida Statue 316.3045 was challenged in Pinellas County. The law made it illegal for amplified sound coming from a motorized car while on public streets, so that the "sound is plainly audible" from a distance of 25 feet from the car.
"But now that statute is held unconstitutional, it's not there anymore … it's not covered by Chapter 316, so I don't think it's a conflict," Fournier said.
The state law exempted sound coming from vehicles used for business or political uses, and so the court struck down the law because it gave preference on the content of the sound, creating First Amendment issues since music is a form of speech.
"The good thing is the Supreme Court upheld this plainly audible standard," City Attorney Robert Fournier. What that means is that it cannot be argued in court that an officer's level of hearing is subjective enough to create an issue of enforcement.
Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone everyday with our free newsletter. Simple, fast sign-up here.
Additionally, the state law upheld that the law was meant to protect the public from excessively loud noise for traffic safety, Fournier said.
"The state of Florida never argued that the purpose of the statute was to protect the public from excessive noise," Fournier said. "They said it was to promote traffic safety—that there was a distraction to drivers from the noise."
But the city is now enabled to say instead, the Sarasota ordinance's goal is to protect people from excessive noise or sound.
The city's ordinance talks about unreasonable sound, but areas of it needs fixed, Fournier said. Those areas will be removed, put the area covering speech/music in its own separate section and fix the vague areas, he added.
"Our own ordinance right now has a few provisions that might be challenged as vague because conceivably, they could invite subjective enforcement," Fournier said.
Those includes provisions that cover noise that "annoys" or "disturb," he added.
"Our ordinance attempts to get around this problem by saying it's prohibited only if it's found offensive to a reasonable person by normal sensibilities, which is a good effort that might work, but might not work," Fournier continued. "But we can do better now if we follow the Supreme Court's opinion because they held that the plainly audible standard is fine."
Some of the complaints in the city include the cars "congregating and playing amplified sound at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning," Fournier said.
Commissioner Shannon Snyder questioned if the severity of the penalty would change, saying he'd like the penalty to be an infraction and not subjected to potential jail time. The city's ordinance was considered a non-moving infraction without any points earned on your driver's license.
"If you end up having this thing as a misdemeanor and you end up with arrests, you're talking about state attorney time, public defender time, and us getting in regulation," he said. "If you're talking about a straight misdemeanor that's a fine, we're going to be a lot more effective and it's going to be a lot more cost effective."
If it would operate like a parking ticket, then the city could boot the car, add additional fines, and more, Snyder said.
The city did tweak its parking enforcement to be able to report people with unpaid fines to the state Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Safety so the offenders would be unable to renew tags or transfer the title. Snyder said he would like to see that used.
At one time, cars could even be seized under the old city ordinance, but the practice stopped because of issues with the state law that had to be resolved, Fournier said.
Vice-Mayor Willie Shaw said he can "live with" the infraction.
"The only thing with a ticket is that people walk around with 40 tickets a year," Shaw said.