They are as much a part of South Florida’s streets as palm trees and traffic crashes — souped-up sound systems announcing their presence on the block with every thump, thump, thump of the bass.
They may draw the ire of light sleepers and eye-rolls from the unimpressed. But Thursday they a powerful group of supporters lined up on their side:
The Florida Supreme Court.
On Thursday, the court released a ruling striking down a law that made it illegal for music coming from a car to be “plainly audible” from 25 feet or more.
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The court ruled on a pair of cases from Pinellas County. Both drivers were cited for playing their car stereos too loudly. One of them, lawyer Richard Catalano, was issued a $73 ticket on his way to work in 2007 as a Justin Timberlake song blasted from his sound system.
The justices called the law unconstitutional and an “unreasonable restriction on the freedom of expression.” They wrote that it violated free speech rights for several reasons, including that the law exempted vehicles used for business or political purposes.
The high court did not have a problem with a requirement in the law that a stereo must be “plainly audible” from 25 feet or more to be illegal, which a lower court had questioned.
Instead, the justices said that it came down to the fact that the right to play amplified music in public is protected under the First Amendment.
And, writing for the majority, Justice Jorge Labarga highlighted a part of the law that exempts commercial and political messages from the ban, saying it amounted to a restriction on certain kinds of speech, a violation of the First Amendment.
Labarga’s ruling also was skeptical of the state’s argument that the ban was justified because it makes traffic safer.
Not that there were many fans of loud music waiting for the state’s high court to tell them that.
At J.R. Electronics in West Miami-Dade, manager Juan Gonzalez said customers come in every day looking for the latest ways to amp up their sound systems.
“You can open the door,” Gonzalez said, “and literally throw a party.”
But that’s not the only thing people want in a car stereo.
In Davie, Precision Performance owner Richard Steinman said it’s not always about loud, especially as his customers grow up.
“I’ve had customers that started out with loud stereos and now they want good stereos and nice toys that interface with iPods and navigation and Bluetooth,” Steinman said.
But don’t be surprised if the right to play your music as loud as you want gives way to another battle — just how big can you get the video screen in your car.
Gonzalez said that while he still gets lots of car stereo business at JR Electronics, the hottest thing right now is installing video screens. He said demand is about half stereos, half screens.
“It’s the new technology,” Gonzalez said. “Everybody wants a screen now.”
Information from the Associated Press and the News Service of Florida is included to this report.