We’ve now all heard about the Nashville Predators fan who was arrested for throwing a catfish on the ice during the Stanley Cup Finals game against the Penguins. Predators fans may be wondering whether the same act at a home game could land you behind bars in Nashville as well.
Pennsylvania and Tennessee have different criminal laws. Let’s take a look at the offenses the fan was charged with in Pittsburgh to see how they would hold up in Tennessee.
Would the Criminal Charges Apply In Nashville?
Possession of an Instrument of a Crime
Under Pennsylvania law, it is illegal to possess “an instrument of a crime,” which is defined as “anything specially made or specially adapted for criminal use,” or “Anything used for criminal purposes and possessed by the actor under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful uses it may have.” Of course, the “instrument” would be criminal only if there was some other criminal conduct afoot.
Nashville fans will be happy to hear that Tennessee does not have an equivalent law: most normal items used in crimes do not become “criminal instruments” that can be independently charged. However, certain specific things may be criminal, such as burglary tools, explosive components, tools to disable theft deterrent devices, and firearms used in crimes. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-701-3, § 39-17-1307)
Under Tennessee law, disorderly conduct can occur when a person, in a public place and with intent to cause public annoyance or alarm, “creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act that serves no legitimate purpose.” Celebrating a Predators goal in Nashville serves a very legitimate purpose and is not intended to cause public annoyance, so I would be surprised to see 12 local jurors find someone guilty of this for throwing a catfish. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-305)
Disrupting a Meeting
Under Tennessee law, a person commits an offense if, with the intent to disrupt a lawful “gathering,” the person substantially interferes with the event. I think a hockey game would be considered a gathering under this statute, and that there might be a substantial interference if the catfish was thrown in the middle of play. But I doubt there would be any “substantial interference” if the person waited for a break in the action to toss the catfish. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-306)
Based on that analysis, I believe that tossing a catfish at Bridgestone Arena would likely not violate any of those laws, as long as it didn’t happen while play was ongoing.
But what about other Tennessee laws? Sometimes prosecutors can be creative in deciding which offenses to charge. As a refresher, here is video of the catfish that was tossed on the ice in Pittsburgh, and then we’ll dive into some potential alternative charges and whether or not they would hold up in Nashville.
Other Statutes That Might Apply in Bridgestone Arena:
Obstructing a Waterway
Could the ice be considered a “waterway” or a “place used for the passage of persons or vehicles” (such as a Zamboni)? If so, a fan may be committing a crime if the catfish causes an “obstruction” that makes “passage unreasonably inconvenient.” (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-307)
It is a crime to throw litter on private or public property without immediately removing it. Litter is defined as “garbage, refuse, rubbish and all other waste material.” This law would almost certainly apply, if Bridgestone Arena chose to pursue it. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-502)
Terrorism is defined as an act that would constitute a crime anywhere in the U.S. with the intent to intimidate a civilian population. If catfish throwing is illegal in Pittsburgh, and a Nashville fan was attempting to intimidate the population of Pittsburgh, would tossing a catfish in Bridgestone Arena be considered terrorism? It’s also a crime to release “biological warfare agents,” so a diligent fan would ensure the dead fish is free of certain bacteria and fungi. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-803)
This would only apply if throwing the catfish places a person “in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.” I’m sure hockey players can handle a body-check from a fish. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-103)
It would be an assault if the catfish struck a person and resulted in injury, or if “a reasonable person would regard the contact as extremely offensive or provocative.” Being hit with a catfish could potentially cause either situation. If Carrie Underwood threw the catfish at Mike Fisher, it would be considered a Domestic Assault because they are married. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-101)
Cruelty to Animals
This law requires the animal be living, so throwing a deceased fish would not apply, notwithstanding PETA’s concerns. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-202)
Taking of Fish Caught by Another
It is illegal to take a fish out of a “box, net, basket or off the hook of another person.” As long as the catfish is lawfully purchased by fishmonger, this law would not apply. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-206)
Attorney Ben Raybin talks Tennessee criminal charges and catfish with WSMV News Channel 4.
Disclaimer: Obviously, this blog post is intended to be a humorous review of certain laws and is not intended to be taken as legal advice. I cannot guarantee whether or not you would be charged with any offense for throwing a catfish on the ice at a hockey game, but would hope that Nashville law enforcement has a better sense of humor than those crybabies in Pittsburgh.