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Is That Legal – No Pants Ride

Disclaimer: Although I am a lawyer, I am not your lawyer. This blog should not be viewed as legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship with any reader.  

The Global No Pants Ride is this Sunday, January 9, 2011.  This event was started by Improv Everywhere in New York 2001 and has become an international event.  People in at least 49 cities all over the world will be riding their public transportation without their pants.  They will look totally normal from the waist up, but from the waist down, they will only be in their underwear and shoes.  A common question I often get when I talk about the No Pants Ride is, “Is that legal?”

No Pants Ride 2013 - Photo by Joseph Abbruscatto from Flickr (used with permission)

No Pants Ride 2013 – Photo by Joseph Abbruscatto from Flickr (used with permission)

In most circumstances, the answer is “yes.”  If people were required to always wear pants in public, going to a public beach or pool wouldn’t be that much fun.  To anyone who finds this event repulsive, remember that we will be more covered than most people are at the beach.  Everyone who is participating in a No Pants Ride must follow the decency law of their state.   In Arizona, that means you must have your genitals covered.   You probably don’t want to wear a thong on the ride because (1) there is an argument that you’re not sufficiently covered, and (2) do you really want to put your bare tush on a subway or light rail seat?

If you’re going to wear boxers on your No Pants Ride, consider wearing a pair of briefs underneath them.   You don’t want to risk accidentally exposing yourself when you sit down.

Last year at the Arizona No Pants Ride, our group of about 350 pantsless people met at Arizona Center.  After about an hour of pantslessly enjoying our beverages at Starbucks and Hooters, we were told by mall security that we had to put on pants or leave.  We chose to leave.  (No more business for you!)  That was perfectly legal for them to do.  Malls and businesses are privately owned and just as they can say, “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” they can require that people wear pants while on their property.  We left and went to Dave’s Electric Brew Pub where they were happy to have our pantsless patronage.

I am very excited for Sunday’s No Pants Ride.  For my fellow Phoenix pantsless riders, please visit Improv AZ’s website for all the details and RSVP on the Facebook event page.  If you want to see the video of last year’s ride, it is available on YouTube.  If you want more information about the legalities of flash mobs and public pranks, I spoke about this topic at Ignite Phoenix #5.

See you on Sunday!

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The Legal Side of Blogging – Part 4 of 4: Can My Blog Get Me Killed?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

The former gas chamber in San Quentin State Pr...
Image via Wikipedia

There have been too many situations where someone has been killed because of what they posted online.  That is not what I’m talking about today.  I wanted to find out if simply posting a blog could legally get you killed.  (The mafia doesn’t count.)

In the United States, you have to be guilty of homicide, a crime committed related to homicide, rape, criminal assault, or something equally heinous to be put to death.  It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to commit one of these crimes via the words on a blog.  If my words were so shocking that a reader had a heart attack and died, could I be arrested for homicide?  I doubt it.  There are other countries, however, that are more likely to kill you because of your point of view or beliefs.

I did some digging into other countries’ laws and found a handful of capital crimes that could possibly be committed via a blog:

  • China: Corruption, Endangering national security
  • Iran: Homosexuality, Crimes against chastity
  • Libya: Attempting to forcibly change the form of government
  • North Korea: Plots against national sovereignty (includes attempting to leave the country)
  • Saudi Arabia: Witchcraft, Sexual misconduct
  • Sudan: Waging war against the state, Acts that may endanger the independence or unity of the state
  • Syria: Verbal opposition to the government, Membership of the Muslim Brotherhood
  • Vietnam: Undermining peace
  • Yemen: Homosexuality, Adultery

When it comes to crimes committed via blogs, the first question that came up for me was jurisdiction.  Since a blog can be accessed anywhere that there’s an internet connection, a prosecutor would have the burden of proving that it has jurisdiction to bring the charges in that country.

Let’s consider my blog.  I’m a citizen of the United States and this blog is hosted by a company based in the United States.  If I travel to Iran and post a blog from my hotel room that says that I had sex with a girl, but it doesn’t say when or in which country the sex occurred, would Iran have jurisdiction to charge me with a capital crime and kill me?

If a Syrian citizen was studying in the United States on a student visa, had a blog that was hosted in the United States, and posted a blog from the United States where he declared his membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, would Syria have jurisdiction to charge him with a capital crime or would he have to return to Syria first?

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The Legal Side of Blogging – Part 3 of 4: Can My Blog Get Me Fired?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

Work Uniform
Image by B_Zedan via Flickr

This is a question that has an obvious answer – yes, your blog can get you fired.

People have always done things that could get them fired – saying bad things about their company, clients and coworkers; breaking the company’s rules; disclosing confidential information; and stealing from the company – but now they are making it more obvious that they are doing it.

My general rule is don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper.  When it comes to keeping your job, don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to your boss’ face.

There are some amazing true stories about disturbing things people have done online in relation to their work:

  • Whole Foods CEO John Mackey was investigated by the SEC for posting anonymous messages that praised his company and condemned Wild Oats Market, his company’s competition.  (Poor form!)
  • An Illinois attorney allegedly posted an ad for a secretary in Craigslist’s adult section and told an applicant that her job responsibilities included dressing sexy and having sexual interactions with him and another attorney.  (Seriously?!)

How did these presumably intelligent people think that they might get away with this?

Companies have realized that online posting by employees can be good or bad free advertising, and are taking steps to protect their reputations by creating guidelines about what employees can and can’t say online.  I’m not a big fan of my employer telling me what I can’t do when I’m on my own time; however I appreciate it when I have clear limits about what I can and can’t do.  I like to push the envelope, but I don’t like getting fired.  Some of these guidelines are pretty obvious – don’t share confidential information, don’t bash the company, its employees, or its clients – but some employees won’t follow these rules unless they’re laid in stone, and maybe not even then.

Having a blog makes you more vulnerable than other social media profiles because it’s open for everyone to see it.  Facebook and Twitter let us control who can see what we post, but with a blog, your words are shared with the entire internet-accessible world.  When in doubt, don’t share information about your work on your blog or anywhere else online.

Employers are getting smart about these things and are Googling job applicants and looking for their profiles on Facebook.  They can’t discriminate against someone based on their race, religion, or sexual orientation, but they can choose not to hire someone because it looks like their preferred weekend activity is beer pong.  A lot of employers are looking at whether a person generally displays good judgment and won’t hire a person who does not act responsibly in their personal life.

I generally discourage people being stupid.   However, I have an exception for those who are genetic morons who can’t be cured with education: keep being stupid.  Make it blatantly obvious how stupid you are so those of us who are not stupid don’t have to waste our time on someone who might clean up and put on a good front, but who ultimately is a moron.

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The Legal Side of Blogging – Part 2 of 4: Can My Blog Get Me Arrested?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

While most of what we post online is protected by the First Amendment, not all speech is protected.  Therefore, it is logical to think that anything that would be illegal to publish in a newspaper is likely illegal if it was posted online.  There are a fair number of things that could probably get you arrested if you put it on your blog.

Threats of Violence

In general, it’s illegal to threaten violence against another person.  In Arizona, “intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury” is assault.  The law doesn’t say what methods of creating this apprehension are illegal; therefore you can make an argument that a threat against you in someone’s blog is enough to have the author charged with a crime.  In Britain, there has already been one arrest when a woman threatened to kill someone on Facebook.

It’s also not a good idea to make threats that sound like terrorist plots.  Sarcastic threats should also be avoided since sarcasm doesn’t translate well from reality to the internet.  Paul Chambers learned this the hard way.  He was angry that the airport was closed due to snow and tweeted, “You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s**t together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”  He was convicted of sending “‘indecent, obscene or menacing’ messages over a public electronic communications network.”

Threats Against the President

It appears that the Secret Service patrols the internet looking for postings that threaten the president’s life and that all threats are taken seriously.  Fourteen year-old Julia Wilson was pulled out of class and questioned by the Secret Service after she posted a picture of then-President George W. Bush with the words “Kill Bush” on her Myspace page.  She didn’t know that threatening the president was a federal offense.  The First Amendment lets us express dissatisfaction with the administration, but not with death threats.

Cyberharassment

I’ve already jumped on my proverbial soapbox once about cyberharassment It’s illegal in most states and people are getting arrested for bullying people via social media websites, text messages, email, and for bullying people by creating websites about them.  Authorities have been taking these cases more seriously since Megan Meier committed suicide at age 13 after receiving a message on her Myspace page that she was better off dead.

Illegal Sales

The internet gives us numerous forums to sell our stuff; however, selling certain items and services like drugs, human body parts, stolen property, and sex, are still illegal wherever it occurs.  In some situations, you might get off by saying, “It’s not mine,” or “I didn’t do it,” but that will be a harder argument to make if these items are being sold from your personal website.

Solicitation

You can commit solicitation via your blog if you command, encourage, request, or solicit people “to engage in specific conduct which would constitute the felony or misdemeanor.”  I haven’t seen a case like this yet, but given how much the law caters to irrational, foolish people who don’t think through their actions, I can see it happening.

Another thing to remember is that your blog could be used as evidence against you in the event that you are arrested.  There has been at least one case where a sex offender was given a harsher sentence when the judge held that the offender’s blog indicated that he could not follow the court’s orders or control his actions.  His designation was changed from being a sex offender to a sexual predator when he created a posted aimed at his victim.

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Is That Legal – Improv AZ Coroner Prank #2

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  I am a law student.  In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

Last week the Improv AZ crew decided to revise their world –famous coroner prank, only this time instead of having four people in “coroner” shirts carry a stuffed body bag on the light rail, we took it for a walk through Chandler mall.

We were hoping to raise a lot of eyebrows and get a lot of double takes and surprised stares of disbelief.  We succeeded in that, but we also spent just enough time in the building to get the attention of mall security.  Not wanting to cause any trouble, we offered to leave.  They refused our offer and called Chandler Police instead.  A mall cop claimed we committed “a dozen felonies.”  The real cop said we could have been charged with disorderly conduct.  In the end, they let us go with a warning and the mall cops banned us from Chandler mall for three months.

Of course as the group’s CLS, I did my usual research before doing this prank, and after our run in with the law, I rechecked everything.

What can mall cops really do?

Mall cops are citizens and can only make citizen arrests.  If they are an agent of the property owner, they can ask people to leave and call law enforcement to arrest them for trespassing if the patrons don’t comply.

Did we commit trespassing?

I don’t think so.  Shopping malls open themselves up for members of the public to enter and shop.  We are, in legalese, “invitees.”  If we had been asked to leave by a property owner or their agent and then refused to go, then we would have been trespassing.

Were we illegally impersonating a government official?

The way Arizona law is written, we would have to pretend to be a public servant and engage in conduct “with the intent to induce another to submit to [our] pretended official authority or to rely upon [our] pretended official acts” to be charged with impersonation.  We did nothing to assert our authority against any mall patrons or anyone else.

A mall cop tried to tell us that our fake coroner badges made us guilty of a felony, but anyone looking closely at them would have seen that they were made with someone’s laminator at home.  Our badges had our pictures – mine was my Twitter avatar – and the words “Coroner” and “All Access Pass.”  The mall cop took our badges from us and turned them over to the Chandler police officer.  After looking at them briefly, he gave them back to us.

FYI – Arizona doesn’t have coroners.  It has medical examiners.

Did we commit disorderly conduct?

I think that’s a stretch at best.  Arizona law defines disorderly conduct as engaging in certain behavior “with the intent to disturb the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family, or person or with the knowledge of doing so.”  The only behavior they could have tried to pin on us was “fighting, violent or seriously disruptive behavior.”   Our conduct could have been considered disruptive, but probably not deserving of being in the same category as violent behavior.  The other behaviors on the list for disorderly conduct didn’t seem to apply since we weren’t making noise, using offensive language, carrying weapons, or preventing business transactions from occurring.

Could the mall cops make our camera guy prove he’d erased the footage he shot with his phone?

Mall cops are just civilians so they probably don’t have that authority.  Real cops, however, can search your phone if it’s related to an arrest.  Otherwise, it looks like they’d a search warrant.

Is it illegal to walk around with a fake dead body?

I looked through Arizona statutes and didn’t find any laws against having fake dead body.  I find out about some of the things you can’t do with an actual dead body:

  • You can’t move a dead human body with the hopes of abandoning or concealing it.
  • You can’t move a dead body from its grave without authority of law.
  • You can’t steal stuff off or from a dead body.
  • You can’t have sex with a dead body.

For now the four coroners are banned from Chandler mall.  The mall cop gave each of us a card with the Chandler mall code of conduct on it.  I’d share this list with you (it’s pretty funny) but it’s too long, and surprisingly, Chandler mall doesn’t have it available on their website.

Related Articles:
Official Improv AZ Blog: When Mall Cops Swarm – The Coroner Prank #2
Video: Improv AZ – Coroner Prank 2, “Bob Goes To The Mall”