Michigan City Plans to Dump Code Making it Crime to 'Annoy'

Feel free soon to pester, bother or bore in Grand Rapids, Mich. It won't be against the law much longer.

In the latest effort by city fathers to rid quirky ordinances from the city's books, the Grand Rapids City Commission is set to abolish a law that makes it a criminal misdemeanor to “willfully annoy another person,” said city attorney Catherine Mish. Theoretically, a pestering person could be sentenced to up to 90 days in jail.

Since July, Mish has gone through the city codes and discovered laws she considers to be repetitive or unconstitutional.

“We have been a city since 1850 and have a two-volume code book that is over 5,000 pages,” Mish told NBC News on Tuesday. “It’s like sediment — they keep piling up in layers, and every 40 years we have to weed it out.”

Grand Rapids has also revisited laws against spitting in public, forcing people to tie up their horses on a public street and allowing for jail time for failing to return a library book.

The “annoying” ordinance, which dates back 38 years, is akin to stalking, Mish added, and the state of Michigan already has anti-stalking laws.

No one has actually been charged under Grand Rapids’ code, which Mish called “archaic, general language.”

In recent years, other towns have implemented versions of their own “annoying” laws — or have had them struck down.

Brighton, west of Detroit, passed an ordinance in 2008 making it illegal to repeatedly tick off another person in ways that “serve no legitimate purpose.”

Meanwhile, the Indiana Court of Appeals last month voided part of a state law that said it’s criminal to harass or annoy another person when intoxicated. The statute provided “no guidance” for what makes someone’s conduct annoying, the court found.

— Erik Ortiz
Image: Getting annoyed
'Annoying' actions are currently a criminal misdemeanor in Grand Rapids, Mich. The code is vague on what exactly constitutes annoying behavior. Claudia Dewald / Getty Images Stock