Rebecca Steele, ACLU of Florida West Central Florida Office, (786)363-2737 or

SARASOTA, Fla. – Two Sarasota County residents, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida’s Sarasota/Manatee/DeSoto Chapter, have filed a lawsuit challenging Sarasota’s unconstitutional noise ordinance, which allows for police to seize and impound vehicles when drivers are charged with playing their music too loud. The lawsuit was filed in state court against the City of Sarasota and Police Chief Peter Abbott.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Mark Cannon, a resident of Sarasota, and Latrese Allen, a resident of Bradenton. Plaintiff Cannon was stopped for “loud music” and his vehicle was seized and impounded. Plaintiff Allen was stopped while traveling on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way while singing along with a song written in memory of a deceased friend. She was ticketed for violating the city’s noise ordinance. The City subsequently dropped the charges.

Florida Statute § 316.3045 makes it illegal to drive a car if the sound system can be heard more than 25 feet away. Sarasota’s Ordinance, passed in May of 2008, goes one giant step further, allowing police to seize the car of a person who is found to be violating the statute. Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal has twice struck down similar noise ordinances as being unconstitutional. Despite being aware of the potential exposure to lawsuits, the City Council decided to go ahead and empower police to seize and impound cars.

“While communities across the country can legitimately restrict excessive noise and prohibit disturbances,” noted ACLU Chapter President Pete Tannen, “they have to do it correctly. The 25-foot standard in the state law fails the test of a reasonable regulation. And the power to seize an owner’s vehicle whenever a Sarasota police officer feels that there is too much noise coming from it gives too much discretion to our local police department.”

“The problem with this Ordinance,” Tannen added, “is both the standard of what is ‘too loud’ and the excessive penalty that allows the police to seize and impound a person’s vehicle.”

In the case, Cannon and Allen v. City of Sarasota and Abbott, the residents are asking the court to rule that the city’s policy is unconstitutional, and issue a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop its enforcement. The ACLU is also seeking damages for
the cost of the seizure and fines incurred by those residents whose vehicles had been impounded, as well as attorney fees.

A PDF copy of the complaint filed in the Circuit Court of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit in and for Sarasota County can be downloaded here:

Attorneys representing Cannon and Allen are Sarasota ACLU cooperating attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen and Rebecca Harrison Steele, director of the ACLU of Florida’s West Central Florida Regional Office.

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2009 Press Releases