A Case That’s Actually About Falsely Shouting Fire (Almost)

All the incomplete quotations of Justice Holmes’ “falsely shouting fire” line make me pleased to see today’s decision in People v. Hanifin (N.Y. Sup. Ct. App. Div.):

Defendant parked his car in the middle of Main Street in the Town of Union, Broome County in front of a business that, among other things, manufactures engine control systems for military purposes. He climbed on top of his car, poured a substance from a gasoline can onto his head, called 911 and threatened to light himself on fire if the war in Iraq did not end by a certain time that day. Emergency personnel from numerous agencies responded. Eventually, the responders doused defendant with a fire hose, took him into custody and determined that the gasoline cans contained water. Following a trial, defendant was convicted of falsely reporting an incident in the second degree and County Court sentenced him to five years of probation. He now appeals….

Defendant contends that he was conducting a protest, but his 1st Amendment rights do not permit him to falsely report an impending fire (see Schenck v United States, 249 US 47, 52 [1919])….