Appellate court: Woman had right to say F-word to sheriff deputy, security

Jan. 12—A Pennsylvania appellate court overturned a disorderly conduct conviction and a $300 fine levied against a Wilkes-Barre woman who yelled the F-word in anger over a face mask mandate inside the Judge Bernard C. Brominski building in August 2021.

Zarinah Muhammad, 34, was cited with disorderly conduct by the Luzerne County Sheriff's Department when she yelled the word in anger along with another curse word after being advised she needed to wear a face mask when she entered the Brominski building on North Street, Wilkes-Barre.

A district judge convicted her of disorderly conduct, which was held up on appeal by President Judge Micheal T. Vough, according to court records.

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Muhammad and her attorney, Robert J. Boyer, then appealed Vough's judgement to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

According to court records, Muhammad entered the Brominski building on Aug. 12, 2021, and was advised she needed to wear a face mask. After obtaining a face mask, Muhammad reportedly said, "I'm not (F-word) talking to you," and proceeded to say, "F-you," to a sheriff deputy and a security official, and continued to say the word. After entering an elevator, Muhammad screamed for help and was eventually cited with disorderly conduct using obscene language.

Muhammad's appeal inquired if the use of the F-word violated the obscene language standard of the disorderly conduct statute and if the word constitutes making unreasonable noise.

A panel of three Superior Court judges, including President Judge Emeritus Correale Stevens, overturned Muhammad's disorderly conduct conviction in a six-page ruling issued Wednesday. Stevens further issued a three page memorandum suggesting the Pennsylvania General Assembly look to criminalize "belligerent conduct toward law enforcement," using a reference from an episode of "Seinfeld."


According to the appellate court's ruling, Muhammad did not dispute using the language but argued in her appeal that her language did not rise to the level of "obscene language."

The appellate court then considered the definition of "obscene" as it relates to the disorderly conduct statute.

Using prior case law regarding obscene language, Muhammad's use of the F-word, "had nothing to do with sex and did not risk an immediate breach of peace," according to the appellate court's ruling.

"After careful consideration, we agree that the language used by (Muhammad) did not constitute 'obscene language' as defined under (disorderly conduct statute); Therefore, (Muhammad's) conviction must be set aside. We reverse (Muhammad's) conviction for disorderly conduct and vacate her judgement of sentence," the appellate court ruling says.


Stevens issued a concurring memorandum referencing a line in a 1991 episode of "Seinfeld."

"Why is nice bad? What kind of a sick society are we living in when nice is bad?" as said in the episode by the character George Costanza, Stevens began his memorandum.

Stevens continued: "While 'nice' may be elusive at times, our society cannot permit the type of public display of abusive, disrespectful, insulting and obnoxious behavior such as (Muhammad) directed toward law enforcement officers in this case."

Stevens urged the General Assembly to criminalize abusive and belligerent conduct directed at law enforcement officers and first responders, even by using a fine as punishment.