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Understanding Noise Ordinances

If you live in or around Leesburg, Virginia, you may or may not be aware of some of the very strict noise ordinances that are in place in towns and villages near you. Over the past few years, there have been a number of landmark cases involving the legality of noise ordinances in Virginia and elsewhere in the country. So are they or are they not Constitutional?  Here is a quick look at the issue nationwide and in Virginia.

Virginia Beach, Virginia (2009)

The case of Tanner v. Virginia Beach presented a unique challenge to a city ordinance that banned the playing of loud music. According to the Virginia Supreme Court, the law was too vague to enforce, because it gave officers too much discretion in determining whether a violation had occurred. As a result, the law was later amended to provide a most specific standard by which officers could determine whether to issue an infraction or not.

Sarasota, Florida (2012)

In a case out of Sarasota, Florida, the Florida Supreme Court held certain provisions of a local ordinance unconstitutional, because the law was “overly broad.” In other words, the law did not account for the various types of loud noise that a driver could play from a vehicle. Community groups and the county argued that they had a right to pass laws to protect local “quality of life” and the peace of the neighborhood. However, the state limited the scope of the law by striking it down, in part, yet preserving certain elements of the law. In Sarasota, the law previously prohibited any plainly audible sounds from within a vehicle that could be heard more than 25 feet away. The law has since been revised and remains unchallenged.

Ocala, Florida (2014)

In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court again had to review a case involving a noise ordinance much like the one in Virginia Beach. The City of Ocala had previously enacted Municipal Ordinance 34-171, which prohibited loud music from been played in public and residential areas without a permit. Upon deciding the case, the Florida Supreme Court held that the ordinance was too vague to be constitutional, because it provided no mechanism for proper enforcement. In other words, it would be too subjective for an officer to adequately assess whether the conduct in a particular scenario warrants a citation.

Leesburg, Virginia Noise Ordinance

Similar to ordinances in other areas, Leesburg restricts noise as well. Municipal Ordinance, Section 24-182, provides several categories, including personal music devices, loudspeakers, fireworks, and a host of other ways to make noise. The ordinance states that “radios, televisions, musical instruments, and similar devices” may not be played in a manner that would be “plainly audible at a distance of 50 feet or more from its source.”

Unlike many of the stricken laws, this ordinance clearly outlines the standard an officer must apply to cite a person for violating the law. Anyone found guilty under the local ordinance is guilty of a class-2 misdemeanor. If the violation lasts more than one day, each day in violation is considered a separate offense.

If you have been cited with violating Leesburg’s noise ordinance, contact Simms Showers, LLP to learn more about your rights. We are eager to assist you today in Leesburg, Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

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