Legal system battles threat of bare-breasted woman
Kayla Sosnow
January 1997

In February of 1996, I was arrested for being a woman, and not wearing a shirt at the same time. While Florida legislators have been politically astute enough to not specifically outlaw the female body, the legal system, with it's many branches and incredible power, has managed to incriminate women nonetheless. Their tool is Florida Statute 877.03, Disorderly Conduct, which reads in part: Whoever commits such acts as are of a nature to corrupt the public morals, or outrage the sense of public decency... shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree...

Law enforcement
It was close to ninety degrees in the Osceola National Forest, and I had removed my shirt. Eric had his shirt off too. He and I had taken his girlfriend's car and headed down to the water tower to fill up about 25 jugs for our camp. It sure didn't feel like I was doing anything criminal.

We were two of 2500 people attending a Rainbow Gathering in the beautiful Osceola National Forest. The Rainbows are a national organization of people who value and respect all beings and ways of being, and who periodically gather in natural settings to practice ecological ways of living. A Rainbow gathering is one of the few places where it is accepted for women to demonstrate freedom from demeaning cultural standards regarding our breasts.

There we were, filling water jugs for the camp, both of us top-free. About twenty-five other Rainbows were present in the area. A National Park Rangers vehicle cruised by and evidently spotted me, because they stopped. Two uniformed officers got out and approached. One asked me to put on my shirt. I asked why he didn't tell Eric to put on his shirt too. The officer looked stern and said, "We've got laws about nudity around here."

I knew there is no state law against female breasts, so I asked if they had a local ordinance. The two officers looked flustered. They retreated to their car and radioed for backup. Meanwhile, Eric and I finished filling our jugs and got in our car to return to our campsite.

Just as we were getting ready to pull away, a ranger hurried over and asked Eric for his license and registration. Eric said this was his girlfriend's car and he wasn't sure where the registration was. The Ranger told us to wait here and not leave. It was painfully obvious they were stalling so more cops could arrive to hassle me for being top-free. Within a few minutes, six law enforcement vehicles converged upon the scene. A full dozen men in blue uniforms strode over to confront my bare-breasted self. I felt like I was a fugitive on America's Most Wanted. -

Politely, yet firmly, one Baker County Sheriff requested, "Would you please put your shirt on ma'am?"

"Why aren't you asking all these shirtless men around here to put on their shirts?" I queried, also politely, yet firmly.

"I'm not going to argue with you, ma'am," the officer said, "You have a choice, put your shirt on or go to jail." I looked at my friend Eric, who rolled his eyes. "Put your shirt on," he said wistfully. The way I looked at my choice, I could either submit to oppression, or fight it. "I am not putting my shirt on," I told Eric.

At that, two of the officers grabbed me by the arms and hauled me off to the paddy wagon. At that moment, I became a criminal and started seeing the legal system through different eyes. It taught me a lot. This is what they don't show you on COPS.

During my arrest, I was never read my rights. The law says they have to do that, but who is going to make them? Most people think you have to break a law to be arrested. Well, In my case, the arresting officers couldn't find any law I had broken, so they opened up their book to the obscenity pages, and charged me under the section "Definitions of Obscene Literature and Profanity." One would also think an arrest report represents the truth. In my case, the report says the law was explained to me. What law? They charged me under a definitions section. The report also states that children and the general public were present. They weren't.

So began a long series of outrages inflicted upon me by the "justice system" and the fashion police, for simply challenging cultural norms of dress.

At no time was I informed of my right to an attorney. At Baker County jail, a jailer demanded to know my religion, sexual orientation, and whether I was under the care of a psychiatrist.

"Can you tell me which of these questions I'm legally required to answer?" I asked.

"All of them," she snapped, "and because of that attitude, I'm not going to let you see the Judge today! That means you'll have to be transported to Columbia County jail tonight. I hope I get to do it before the end of my shift," she added, in menacing tones.

She did transport me, in handcuffs and shackles. She also turned the rear speakers to their highest, ear-splitting volume, and changed the station every thirty seconds for the full one hour ride. There was no mistaking her intent to torture.

At Columbia County jail, my clothes were taken, I was issued a uniform, and had to take the "lice scrub." I was placed in a cell block by myself. The phone didn't work, and I was denied paper and pen. The water did not run, and when I informed the jailers, they told me to get a drink out of the shower. By law, I should have seen the Judge within twenty-four hours of my arrest, but it was three days when I was finally brought before him.

The Public Defender
When I got to court, I met a dozen other Rainbows, all shackled together in pairs, who had been arrested elsewhere at the gathering for skinnydipping, and charged with indecent exposure. The public defender told us if we pled guilty, we'd be released for time served. So, like blind sheep being herded to the slaughter, all the other defendants did as they were advised and pled guilty.

Unfortunately, this was no deal. Now these people have a serious sex crime on their records to explain to potential future employers, and they can forget about working with children. The worst part is that none of them were guilty of indecent exposure. Florida's highest courts have repeatedly ruled that in addition to mere nudity, indecent exposure requires "vulgar," or "lewd or lascivious" behavior, involving "an unlawful indulgence in lust, eager for sexual indulgence." (Chesebrough v State, 255So2d 675,677 Fla.1971). So remember ... friends don't let friends plead guilty.

When it was my turn to plead, I asked the public defender to plead innocent for me, and request the Judge to release me on my own recognizance. Instead, the public defender asked that I be allowed to bond out. "Wait a minute," I said, "that's not what I wanted." The Judge shunted my case to the back.

We came before him again, and I told the public defender I wanted to speak. The public defender stepped forward and announced he'd been fired as my representative. "Wait, that's not what I meant to do," I cried. "I just wanted to say something." Little did I know that defendants aren't supposed to speak. The Judge seemed irritated by my ignorance of court procedure. He set bail at $500, requiring the full amount in cash.

Back in jail, I learned about the public pretender. "Why is he called that?" I asked. "Because, he pretends to help you, but he really doesn't."

The State Attorney
My next court appearance, a few weeks later, was an arraignment. By this time, my bogus charge of the definition of obscene literature had been changed, and I too was charged with indecent exposure. I walked into the courtroom and sat with all the other alleged criminals. This was high theater. The Judge was not present, so the State Attorney had the show to himself. He handed everyone a form entitled "Plea of Guilty or No Contest." There was nowhere on the form to differentiate which one you were pleading. The form listed nine legal rights, and our willingness to give up these rights. The State Attorney told us all to fill out the form, sign it, and hand it to the Judge when he called our name.

Just like the man wanted, almost everyone complied. I asked the State Attorney what I should do if I wanted to plead innocent. He said I should fill out the form anyway! I took one more look at the form, and decided not to take his free legal advice.

The Judge tried hard to persuade me to plead guilty, offering me a deal he said was "about as good as it gets." I told him I still had to plead innocent. If they were so interested in resolving the case, let them drop it. Why should I plead guilty when my innocence was sullied by a bunch of law-officers inflicting their sexist notions upon me?

I was reassigned the public defender, who eventually filed a motion to dismiss. Since filling up water jugs while top-free is neither lewd nor lascivious, my actions did not constitute the crime of indecent exposure. After we'd done his homework for him, the State Attorney agreed.

My aunt drove me an hour and a half to court that day, only to find it had been cancelled. But instead of my case being dismissed, a third charge was lodged against me: disorderly conduct. The public defender and I used this time to strategize. It appeared the state attorney was determined to prosecute me to the fullest extent of the law.

Judge Joe Williams
Two days later, I got a letter from the public defender stating the judge had removed him from my case. There was no further explanation. I was to appear in court in one week. I went alone. The Judge announced I was no longer entitled to the public defender's services because he'd certified to the court that he was no longer considering jail time. Maybe Judge Williams thought that I would jump at the chance to plead to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct, especially since I didn't have a lawyer any more. Sorry Judge, no dice. I told him I was still pleading innocent. Judge Joe seemed to take this as a challenge to his authority. He demanded to know if I would be retaining my own attorney. I said I would like to have one, but I didn't know whether I could afford it. "You need to tell me now." Judge Joe snapped. I didn't know what to say. "Well, If I have to tell you right now ... I guess, yes," I said. "This case has been in court far too long," the judge said. "If you don't have a lawyer at your next court date, we'll have the trial right then. If you do have a lawyer, we'll have a pre-trial."

Two compassionate Gainesville attorneys, Shannon Miller and Dan Glassman, volunteered to represent me pro bono. When I arrived in court with Shannon Miller, the Judge reneged on his certification of no jail time. He insisted he was not punishing me for exercising my (6th Amendment) right to counsel. He said this repeatedly over the next few court dates when my attorneys questioned the legality of his decision. As explained by Judge Joe: "Circumstances have changed; it seems each side has become more entrenched."

On September 24, exactly seven months after my arrest, my case was brought to trial. It quickly became obvious that things were not likely to go my way. During jury selection, Shannon asked some potential jurors if they had ever been skinnydipping. The Judge immediately called her to the bench for a reprimand, saying this was a small town and that question could only be asked in private. Small was the right word. Baker County is so small, each juror knew at least two or three of the others. The arresting officer, who had already lied on the police report, perjured himself under oath on the stand. He stated there were two to three hundred people present in the area of the arrest.

There were only about twenty-five. My attorneys asked the judge to include in his instructions to the jury that, by established case law, disorderly conduct requires a complainant other than a law officer. The judge refused. Not surprisingly, I was convicted.

Judge Williams sentenced me to thirty days in jail, to be suspended after I had successfully served five months probation, paid $600 in fines and fees, performed fifty hours of community service, and did not appear in public "partially or fully nude" for the next six months. The Judge made sure to point out that he was not punishing me for taking my case to trial (just as he had not punished me for having a lawyer). Instead he claimed that when a person pleads guilty, he does not know the details, so he has to sentence them lightly. But during a trial, the entire story come out, "warts and all," which gives him better basis for sentencing.

For the first time in seven months, the Judge asked me if I'd like to ask any questions. I said "yes, what about my case made it so bad that it justified all this punishment?" The Judge just laughed and gave no answer. My lawyer glared at me and hushed, "Kayla, Kayla." I guess free speech doesn't apply in the halls of justice.

At my first appointment with my probation officer, she told me I would not be able to fulfill my community service at the school across the street from my house, or work with any children for that matter, due to the nature of my crime. Then she gave me an "Authorization and Release" form to sign. I started to read the thing. It authorized "every person, firm officer, corporation, association, organization or institution having control of any documents, records, or other information pertaining to me ... to furnish originals or copies ... "

"Don't worry about that," she said. "That's just a standard form we get everyone to sign. So I asked if the form could be adjusted to its purpose of verifying compliance with the actual terms of my probation. My probation officer screamed, "There is no adjusting to be done! I call the shots around here! I don't need to put up with this. We're doing Baker County a favor by taking your probation. I have a mind to return this case to them. As a matter of fact, I think I'll just do that right now." With that, she picked up the phone. Unbeknownst to me, and with no investigation of the facts, Tri-County Probation immediately violated me.

In the meantime, I had filed a two page grievance letter to the Supervisor of Alachua County Probation, plus notice to appeal my conviction. For three weeks, I waited for a phone call or letter from Alachua County Probation, Tri-County Probation, or the Baker County Court. Hearing nothing, I called Tri-County Probation, and was informed I had been violated. Moreover, they claimed to have sent me a summons to appear in court on October 30th, and since I did not appear, there was now a warrant out for my arrest, with no possibility of bail. (Strangely, no evidence of the summons was ever produced, and claims of its existence similarly disappeared.)

When I explained to the head of Tri-County Probation the form I had refused to sign, he told me my duty was to sign the form or go to jail. I immediately called my trial attorneys, who arranged a date for me to turn myself in. I called Probation to obtain a copy of the form I'd refused to sign, but was denied.

More Court and Jail
At this December 4th appearance, the Judge had me arrested and incarcerated until my violation of probation hearing, at some undetermined date in the future. He denied bail, commenting that people who violate probation have already had their chance to live in society and have messed it up. He further commented that I had known all along that I'd been in violation, and done nothing about it.

I spent sixteen days in jail, waiting for a hearing to determine whether or not I was guilty of violating probation. Alachua County Probation was uncooperative, and it was just before my hearing when my lawyer finally got hold of the information release, and declared, "This is ridiculous! No one in their right mind would sign a form like this! And it certainly isn't a condition of probation for you to sign it!"

On December 20th, the date of my hearing, the Baker County Sheriffs "forgot" to pick me up. So the hearing was held without me. Two friends had also gone to support me, but found the hearing had been held in private chambers. My probation officer was subpoenaed as a witness, but proved so intolerable in person that the state attorney never even brought her in the room to testify.

The State Attorney, upon seeing the outrageous Authorization and Release form, agreed to drop the violation of probation charge if I would fulfill the rest of my original, suspended jail sentence. When Judge Williams saw the form and realized an innocent (although outspoken) woman had been held in jail for sixteen days on baseless charges, he allowed the violation of probation charges to be dropped, released me from jail, and terminated probation.

Thankfully, my punishment is done, and Alachua County Probation decided to scrap their overbroad Authorization and Release form and redo it.

The government and corporations
So why all the lies, deceit, and manipulation by the guntoting, gavel-wielding, jail-threatening police officers, judges, state attorneys, and probation officers? What is the threat of bare breasts? Well, many people are threatened by that which is different or unknown, so they fight against it, without even knowing what it is. Witness the Baker County Sheriff's expenditure of $300,000 policing a bunch of peaceful Rainbows who were cooking and drumming in the woods at the Gathering.

But while the judicial branch of the state government is busy abusing all of it's power to fight a top-free woman, another phenomenon is taking place. According to Justice England of the Florida State Supreme Court, "For years, the government of Florida promoted nationwide interest in our sun and our beaches by advertisements which prominently featured skimpily clad females." At first it seems ironic....

But really, Florida government, and many industries, have a "vested" interest in keeping us covered. Exploitation of female breasts for commercial purposes is a basic institution in advertising. The industries that benefit will need an entire new approach once breasts are demystified, and recognized as wholesome and natural.

If you are interested in supporting an appeal to set new legal precedent, call (352) 373-5789. And be sure to attend the Anniversary of the Bust, Monday, February 24, 1997, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Civic Media Center, 1021 W. University Ave. This will be an exciting event you won't want to miss, featuring theater, music, art, discussion, question and answer, and open mike. Refreshments will be served. Two to ten dollar donations at the door will support the Legal Defense Fund and Top-Free Equality campaign. Join the fight for Top-Free Equality!

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