South Carolina truck testicles
Hanging of ‘Truck Nuts’ Grows into a Free Speech Debate
By Elizabeth Robichaux Brown
‘Don’t touch my junk,’ is taking on new meaning.
“Truck nuts,” fake bull testicles made of plastic or metal that drivers hang on the back of their pickups to make a truck look more manly, have been around for years. Some find them funny, while others find them offensive, prompting at least three states to try to ban them — unsuccessfully.
But a recent case in South Carolina is fueling debate over whether these ornaments violate a state’s indecency laws and if attempting to regulate them infringes on freedom of speech.
On July 5, Virginia Tice, 65, from Bonneau, S.C. pulled her pickup truck into a local gas station with red, fake testicles dangling from the trailer hitch. The town’s police chief, Franco Fuda, pulled up and asked her to remove the plastic testicles.
When she refused, he wrote her a $445 ticket saying that she violated South Carolina’s obscene bumper sticker law.
The South Carolina code of laws reads, “a sticker, decal, emblem, or device is indecent … in a patently offensive way, as determined by contemporary community standards, sexual acts, excretory functions, or parts of the human body.”
Tice lawyered up and said that she was preparing to challenge Fuda in court. But before she could ask for a jury trial, Fuda, in a rare move, beat her to it.
Fuda says he is pushing for a jury trial and hopes the outcome will clarify the state’s obscenity laws, leaving no room for misinterpretation.
“The law is very clear, and I am prepared to take it all the way,” Fuda told FoxNews.com.
Scott Bischoff, Tice’s lawyer, says his client is not bowing down because “this whole thing was caused by the arresting officer, who is arbitrarily interpreting a statute incorrectly.”
Bischoff will argue whether these large, red, plastic testicles are “really an accurate depiction of a human body part.”
“He is nuts,” says Jay Bender, a lawyer and professor at the University of South Carolina, referring to Fuda and his interpretation of the law. Bender says although tasteless and stupid, they are not illegal, and adds, “Chief Fuda is abusing his arrest powers.” He says the statute is very clear about what material is obscene and “it doesn’t have anything to do with artificial bull testicles.”
David Hudson, a First Amendment attorney and scholar, says laws banning these types of decals, emblems or bumper stickers are problematic, but often someone just hasn’t challenged them.
Hudson believes Tice and her lawyer can make a good case the South Carolina law is “unconstitutionally vague and unconstitutionally board, and it violates the First Amendment.”
In the past, lawmakers in Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland and Florida have proposed legislation to ban these types of decals and other explicit bumper stickers.
Hudson detailed many cases where law enforcement officials cited individuals for the content of their bumper stickers, and in the majority of those cases, a judge tossed them out because “the First Amendment protects a great deal of offensive expression.”
Hudson also cites the Supreme Court’s opinion that “the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
Even though the attempts to ban “truck nuts” have been unsuccessful, customers are still leery about their legality.
Trick Trucks, a truck accessory chain, has been selling them for years and has had customers question whether they are illegal. Keith Dillard says sales at his Lanham, Md., store are hit and miss, but “when people talk about outlawing or banning them, they come in to buy them up.”
“I can’t see a piece of plastic being offensive, it’s not like you can’t see that along the road, there are farms all over,” says Ron Pelletier, assistant manager of the Trick Trucks in Waldof, Md. Both say most people buy them as gag gifts.
Neither side in Bonneau, S.C., is laughing over this legal mess, but they do agree the public interest in the case is shocking. Fuda said that he’s been getting a lot of feedback from people, including one Florida woman who stopped by the police station to say she was glad he wrote the ticket, while another man called to ask, “if we didn’t have anything better to do?”
“We concur with the sentiments of people in our community and across the nation that this whole thing is a big waste of time, but it was all started by Chief Fuda,” says Bischoff.
For the second time in a year, a South Carolina officer has ticketed a motorist for displaying a replica of testicles on a vehicle.
A Spartanburg County sheriff’s deputy stopped a truck Sunday evening after noticing the display on the rear bumper. The incident report says the driver removed the display after being stopped but he was arrested for driving without a license. He was also given a warning ticket for having an obscene display.Last July, a Berkeley County, South Carolina woman was ticketed for having a similar display on the back of her truck. That case is to go to trial in municipal court in the town of Bonneau. That trial has been delayed three times and no new trial date has been set.
CBS13 contacted the Joaquin Jeepers, a 4×4 owners group located in Stockton, to find out what they thought about the ticket, and if they knew of any California residents who had been also ticketed for displaying the testicles.
“I’ve never heard of anyone being pulled over,” said Joaquin Jeepers club member, Ken Rowe. “I’ve seen it, and it’s like, oh yeah, okay. But maybe people take it a little too far.”
We called the CHP to find out if displaying the testicles could lead to a ticket in California, but our call was not immediately returned.
Virginia Tice, 65, was issued the ticket earlier this month after her truck was pulled over by Bonneau Police Department Chief Franco Fuda who saw the popular adornment known as “Truck Nutz” or “Bulls Balls” hanging from her 2004 Dodge.
Her violation was recorded by the chief as “Obscene Bumber Sticker” which falls under a state law involving displays that community standards deem “patently offensive” and include “sexual acts, excretory functions, or parts of the human body."
According to a court clerk a trial will be scheduled for late August. It will allow Tice’s peers to determine what the community standard is when it comes to dangling novelty balls off the back of one’s truck.
A police officer ticketed a 65-year-old grandmother after she parked her grandson's pickup truck at an Exxon station. Hanging off the back of the truck near the trailer hitch was a pair of bright red, plastic testicles.
Bonneau, S.C. Police Chief Franco Fuda asked Virginia Tice to remove the dangling ornaments, she refused.
Fuda said he was kind of shocked by the car's adornments:
"I've never seen a vehicle with a pair of testicles," he told AOL Autos. "I don't think that's natural."
And he certainly wasn't entertained:
"If some small child had seen it or if someone had pulled up with a clergyman in the car or an elderly grandmother, they would have to be confronted with that," he said. "I don't think that's amusing."
But Tice doesn't plan to pay the $445 ticket without a fight. She's asked for a jury trial.
Her attorney says this case is less about free speech, and more about whether or not his client broke the obscenity code. Since there were no images depicting intercourse and no human body parts shown, the case is pretty clear:
"It's not an obscenity issue," said Scott Bischoff, Tice's attorney. "The 'balls' don't "qualify as human body parts: They're red and they're from an animal."
Bischoff is representing Tice for free.
The South Carolina law governing bumper stickers, which says they can't be offensive or show excretory acts or human body parts, has been described as overly broad.
The plastic parts mimic steer testicles. Bischoff said the 17-year-old pickup owner was just using the decorations as "unique way of expressing himself."
The police chief doesn't buy that argument. "Freedom of speech is certainly protected, but it doesn't give you the freedom to break the law," Fuda said. "The law is on the book. It's very specific."
Bulls Balls are made by a company called Truck Nutz, which also makes a similar accessory called BikerBallz. The company is owned by 78-year-old Wilson Kemp, who bought the company about 10 years ago. He says they sell about 100,000 sets of balls annually. They go for $21 for plastic ones, and $46 for chrome.
They are intended to make people laugh, Kemp says.
"We intended to be humorous," he said. "We don't intend it to be offensive. If you're going to outlaw these, the next step would be to have people cover their pets and farm animals."
In the past five years, three states -- Maryland, Virginia, and Florida -- have tried to have their legislature open cases trying to ban these testicular decorations.