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Judicial relief: Court concludes urine is not 'noxious or filthy'

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that a man facing OUI charges can't also be charged with defacing a police lockup with a "noxious or filthy substance" for having urinated all over the floor and through the bars of his cell, because the law used to charge him was aimed at pre-Civil War anti-temperance protesters and they didn't hurl bottles of urine through windows at the homes of people fighting demon rum.

The ruling involves a guy who got really pissed off when arrested for OUI by state troopers in Northampton around 2:20 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2020 - as he was being put into a cruiser, the court summary states, he yelled at one of the troopers: ""I hope your mother dies of cancer," "I hope you die pig," and "you should have been killed in Afghanistan."

Angel Perez Narvaez was placed in a holding cell overnight. Around 7 a.m., a trooper checking on found he had thrown toilet paper all around the cell and "had urinated on the floor both inside and outside of his cell" - and that since the cell had a working toilet, he obviously did so on purpose. Troopers called in a cleanup company specializing in hazardous spills to clean up the resulting mess - and troopers added a charge of vandalism with "a noxious or filthy substance" - which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Perez's lawyer moved to have the vandalism charge dropped, the judge in the case agreed, but the Massachusetts Appeals Court disagreed and reinstated it. Today's ruling by the state's highest court, however, tosses it for good.

The law cited by State Police refers to two specific substances - coal tar and oil of vitriol - but does not then define the "other noxious or filthy substances," the tossing of which it also criminalizes, the court says.

To figure out whether urine fits into that category, the court first delved into the history of the law: It was passed in 1851 in response to anti-temperance protesters making their case by hurling foul-smelling, sticky coal tar or dangerous oil of vitriol - concentrated sulfuric acid - through windows of the homes of people fighting for prohibition. Back then, apparently, nobody thought to hurl bottles of urine.

The court then turned to the modern-day Massachusetts Oil and Hazardous Material List - which lists both coal tar and sulfuric acid, but not urine. So strike two.

Strike three comes from the legal principal of ejusdem generis, which translates as "of the same kind or class," and which is a way courts try to determine whether a law that starts with specific items, then trails off into a generic term, applies to specific items not actually referenced by the law.

In this case, the question becomes whether urine could be included in the 1851 law's listing of "oil of vitriol, coal tar or other noxious or filthy substance" because it is somehow similar to the first two specific items. The court concluded: Nope.

Urine is neither listed on the Massachusetts Oil and Hazardous Material List nor similar substantially in form to either of these two substances. ...

Accordingly, we hold that under the statutory canon of interpretation of ejusdem generis, the more specific statutory terms of "coal tar" and "oil of vitriol" necessarily were intended to limit the more general term "other noxious or filthy substance." ... See also Banushi, 438 Mass. at 244. Thus, where we hold that urine is not a noxious or filthy substance within the context of § 103, the criminal complaint against the defendant undoubtedly lacks probable cause.

In a closing footnote, the court noted its ruling "is a narrow one," applying specifically to urine under one specific law.

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Comments

Whenever the dramaturges of drivel resort to peremptoriness in describing their ordinary business practices, such as "called in a cleanup company specializing in hazardous spills to clean up the resulting mess," it's a healthy exercise to translate "the cops called a janitor" into human speak.

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There's a difference. Some companies specialize in cleaning up potential biohazards that your typical janitor isn't trained or equipped to clean properly. What I take from this is that the troopers, figuring that they didn't know this guy from a hole in the wall and had no idea what kind of diseases he might have, decided to err on the side of caution and call in specialists, especially since it's not like the cleaning fee would come out of their pockets.

Did this particular cleanup company have any interesting business or personal ties to the troopers?

Yeah, we'll call in our cousin's hazmat cleanup company anytime a detainee pisses the bed.

and what an eye-rolling thing to call a hazardous materials specialist in to clean up some pee.

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Because urine, like other bodily fluids, can carry potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses, police hired a cleanup company specializing in cleaning hazardous fluids and spills to clean the defendant's cell.

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Any Northampton housekeeping staff could sue the jail staff under same principle, because no guy can take a leak without dribbling at least a few drops on the toilet and/or floor.

Disclosure: I grew up with urinals in two different homes. It served zero benefit toward reducing leakage, in fact, the spray back made it worse.

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There are well-designed urinals that don't have that issue at all, but for some reason they are rarely deployed. :-/ They're shaped like a cone, creating a very low angle of incidence.

I wonder if this also applies to urine from somehow who recently ate asparagus.

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If the guy ahead of you in a public latrine actually flushes the asparagus water but that rarely happens...

Maybe not in 1851, but there is earlier precedent for throwing urine as a protest in Boston.

In 1719 dissenting members of the New North Meeting protested the installation of a new pastor, Peter Thacher, by sprinkling “a liquor, which shall be nameless” from the balcony onto the celebrants below. “The filthy creatures entirely spoiled a new velvet hood which I had made for the occasion,” complained one woman.

This congregation was on the site of what is now St. Stephen's Church on Hanover Street in the North End. The dissenters left that congregation and founded a new church, also on Hanover Street, which became known as the "New Brick" or "Cockerel Church" because of its large rooster weathervane.

Either you've got a very unusual digestive system, or we've found a new Messiah.

Urine is one of our Precious Bodily Fluids. Our Precious Bodily Fluids are neither noxious or filthy substances.

" Water is the source of all life. Seven tenths of this earth's surface is water. Why do you realize that 70% of you is water? And as human beings, you and I need fresh, pure water - to replenish our precious bodily fluids".

Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper.

Not to mention Ghandi enjoyed a glass or two of urine.