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Hanging of 'Truck Nuts' Grows into a Free Speech Debate

  • blurredcar

     (Paula Henson)

  • trucknuts

     (Trick Trucks)

'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. 

The case goes to trial next month.