Topfree case won on appeal
Kayla Sosnow
October 1999

Three years and eight months after my arrest for daring to usurp the male privilege of going without a shirt, (in a forest!), the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturns my conviction. Justice prevails!

In February of 1996 I was handcuffed and arrested for being a woman not wearing a shirt in the Osceola National Forest. I was hauled off to jail for four days, having to raise $500 in cash to be released.

For the next eight months I traveled back and forth to Baker County to fight the charges in court. The determined prosecutors had to change the charges three times since there is actually no state law in Florida prohibiting women from going topfree. During the course of this ordeal, the judge dismissed my public defender, certifying that if convicted, I would serve no time. Subsequently, two Gainesville attorneys volunteered to represent me, and the judge reneged on his promise of no jail time.

I was convicted of disorderly conduct (the FL statute used against topfree women since 1977), and sentenced to thirty days in jail, to be suspended if I successfully completed five months on probation and fifty hours of community service, paid $500 in fines, and did not go topfree in public for five months. When Probation asked me to sign a blanket information release authorizing and requesting all firms, officers, organizations, associations, and individuals to furnish the court with all accumulated information on me, written or verbal, throughout all time, I refused. Deciding that I did not deserve to be treated like a criminal, I walked across the street to the courthouse, and had the law librarian help me file an appeal of my conviction. Three weeks later I discovered I had charges of violating probation against me, and a warrant out for my arrest.

My attorney accompanied me to turn myself in to the court. The judge immediately had me plucked from the courtroom and rejailed, pending a hearing on whether or not I'd actually violated probation. He commented that "People who violate probation have already had their chance to live in society and messed it up." I spent sixteen more unjustified days in jail before being found innocent of violating probation. Consequently, the judge threw out the rest of my probation, fines, and community service.

After learning I was in jail for topfree equality, dozens of people and organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada sent money to fund my appeal. Noted civil rights attorney Jim Miller of Jacksonville enthusiastically offered his service, and for three years we appealed my case. After much waiting, a few days ago we finally received the decision. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals panel of judges found no proof of any member of the public being disturbed, and therefore insufficient evidence to convict. My conviction was reversed and set aside. Although the Circuit Court's opinion is not binding statewide, as an appellate court it is still persuasive authority.

This ruling confirms higher court precedent that in cases involving disturbing the peace, the person whose peace is disturbed can not be the officer who is sent to keep the peace. This prior precedent was established in a case handled by the same attorney Miller involving a person annoying an officer (Harbin v. State, 358 So. 2d 856 (Fla. 1st DCA 1978). The significance of broadening this precedent to topfree issues is that now women who go topfree at Rainbow gatherings, beaches, concerts, or other locations where no one complains, should not be arrested by an officer simply because that officer observes the behavior. If a woman is arrested, she can use this appellate decision in her defense.

Many questions arise from the simple existence of this case. For starters, why aren't women allowed to go topfree? Why does society accept the existence of topless bars, but deny women the right to take off their shirts when they want? How serious are the consequences of the objectification of women's breasts? How are we affected by the media's barrage of images of "ideal breasts?" What is topfree equality all about? Does anyone really care about this issue? What comes next?

For the answer to these questions and more, come to the press conference announcing our Appeals Court victory. It will be held Tuesday, October 12th, 1:15PM, at the Civic Media Center, 1021 W. University Ave., Gainesville, FL. Look for the media coverage to follow, and if necessary, get those letters in to the editors! Thanks for all of your ongoing support!

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