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Man fails to convince state Supreme Court police blocked free speech
CONCORD - A man convicted of disorderly conduct can't use the First Amendment to claim he has a right to interrupt police while they interview another person and offer to videotape the conversation, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled last week.
In a unanimous ruling, the court said Samuel Biondolillo went beyond his rights when he came within an arm's length of a Concord police officer, who was interviewing the father of a young child whose mother was about to be arrested.
Police said they wanted to determine whether the father was capable of caring for the child. But Biondolillo asked the father if he was OK, whether he wanted a lawyer and whether he wanted the interaction with police recorded.
"It was not the content of the defendant's speech that caused Office Garcia to arrest him. Rather, it was the fact that he was interfering with the performance of Garcia's duties as a law enforcement officer and subsequently refused Garcia's lawful command aimed a preventing further interference," according to a ruling written by Justice Gary Hicks.
The incident took place outside a McDonald's restaurant on June 28, 2011. During a bench trial, Biondolillo was cleared of a charge of obstructing government administration but found guilty of disorderly conduct.
Biondolillo's lawyer, Manchester attorney Brandon D. Ross, said his client is part of the Free State movement. He said a decision has not been made whether to appeal Biondolillo's conviction to federal court.
Nicholas Cort, an assistant attorney general who argued against the appeal, said the key to the decision was interference in the duties of the police officer. Recently, a federal appeals court in Boston ruled that a bystander has a constitutional right to videotape police in public, but that case did not involve an interference with police.
"That's the big difference," Cort said.
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