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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. PAULA PRINGLE (09/03/82)

filed: September 3, 1982.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
PAULA PRINGLE, APPELLANT



No. 1968 Philadelphia, 1980, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County, at No. 190 Criminal 1980

COUNSEL

Thomas M. Place, Carlisle, for appellant.

Theodore B. Smith, III, Assistant District Attorney, Carlisle, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Johnson, Montemuro and Montgomery, JJ.

Author: Montgomery

[ 304 Pa. Super. Page 69]

The Appellant, Paula Pringle, files this direct appeal to our Court following her conviction after a non-jury trial, the denial of post-trial motions, and her sentencing on a charge of disorderly conduct. The episode which led to these charges, which will be more fully discussed below, involved the Appellant's conduct in protesting a friend's arrest by repeatedly shouting crude epithets at the arresting officers as a large crowd gathered at the scene of the arrest.

On this appeal, she contends that the provisions of the disorderly conduct statute under which she was convicted are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. She further argues that the lower court erred in finding that words she used in the incident were both

[ 304 Pa. Super. Page 70]

"obscene" and were "fighting words" and that they created a clear and present danger of inciting lawless actions by others. Finally, she maintains that the lower court failed to comply with our Rules of Criminal Procedure in her sentencing.

Prior to examining the various legal issues presented, it is appropriate that we review the factual circumstances which resulted in the charge of disorderly conduct against the Appellant. The record shows that late on the evening of September 28, 1979, an officer of the Shippensburg Police Department was attempting to arrest an unruly person in front of a tavern on a main town square. The subject of the arrest was violently resisting the officer and other officers who arrived to assist in the arrest. During their attempts to subdue the individual, a crowd of approximately fifty (50) people gathered to watch. The Appellant, Paula Pringle, arrived at the scene and recognizing the person being arrested as a friend, became obviously angered at the police officers. She repeatedly shouted "goddamn fucking pigs" at the officers, from various locations in the area. The first arresting officer testified that several times when she stated these words she looked directly at him. He also testified that he was fearful that the Appellant's conduct, at that time, might motivate some persons in the crowd, including some who had come from the nearby tavern, to interfere with the arrest. Another officer, in addition to hearing the Appellant repeatedly yell "goddamn fucking pigs", also heard her shout "fucking pig, let him go" more than once. He expressed the belief that her conduct could have motivated those in the crowd to try to help her friend who was then resisting the arrest. The Appellant was charged with disorderly conduct in violation of the Act of December 6, 1972, P.L. 1482, No. 334, § 1, 18 C.P.S.A. § 5503(a)(3). That statute provides, in pertinent part: "A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he: . . . uses obscene language, or makes an obscene gesture . . . ."

[ 304 Pa. Super. Page 71]

As a preface to our discussion of the specific arguments presented on this appeal, we note that we find guidance for the disposition of this appeal in two relatively recent Pennsylvania appellate decisions involving analogous factual situations. In 1980, our Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an opinion in Commonwealth v. Mastrangelo, 489 Pa. 254, 414 A.2d 54, appeal dismissed, Mastrangelo v. Pennsylvania, 449 U.S. 894, 101 S.Ct. 259, 66 L.Ed.2d 124 (1980). That case involved an appeal by a defendant from a disorderly conduct conviction which resulted from his activities in repeatedly calling a parking meter officer a "fucking pig", and other profane and insulting names on the public streets. The Court concluded that the defendant was not exercising any constitutionally protested right of free speech in such circumstances and affirmed the conviction. In Commonwealth v. Hughes, 270 Pa. Super. 108, 410 A.2d 1272 (1979), a panel of our Court, in an opinion by Judge Hoffman, reached the same conclusion in reviewing a disorderly conduct conviction. In Hughes, the defendant engaged in unruly conduct which included the shouting of obscenities at members of the general public and at police officers at an early hour of the morning on a public street. In discussing the disorderly conduct statute, Judge Hoffman declared that a person may be guilty of disorderly conduct within the definition of the Act if in the presence of members of the general public he shouts obscenities at police officers, even though his intent may have been to insult the police rather than to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm. 270 Pa. Super. at 111, 410 A.2d at 1274.

In view of the relatively recent pronouncements by this Court and our Supreme Court in cases involving conduct comparable to that engaged in by the Appellant herein, and the discussion in those cases of the application of the disorderly conduct statute, it is unnecessary for us to engage in yet another prolonged recitation of the same principles of law here. Suffice it to state that it is well-settled in our ...


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