Expert Witness Testimony

Excerpt from Judge's decision in Turley vs. New York City Police Dept. et al

Alan Fierstein gave testimony in support of the plaintiff, a street musician, who argued that the sound level limit enforced by the city was unreasonably low. Based on Mr. Fierstein's testimony, the jury decided for the plaintiff. The judge upheld the jury's decision, denying a challenge by the defendants. An excerpt from the judge's opinion appears below:

Shira A, Scheindlin, U.S.D.J

Defendant's Motion-- The 75 Decibel Ceiling

Pursuant to New York City Administrative Code # 10-108 which authorizes the Police Department to set a maximum volume for amplification devices, the Police Department placed a 75 decibel at six feet limit on plaintiff's permits for the Times Square area. The jury found that this 75 decibel limit was unreasonably low. Defendant now challenges that determination as seriously erroneous and contrary to the weight of the evidence.

In support of its motion the City highlights the testimony of its expert who indicated that the average decibel level from ambient sound in the Times Square area was approximately 70 to 71 decibels. See Tr. 777-791, 450-52, 467-68. Plaintiff's expert, Alan Fierstein, on the other hand, testified that the ambient sound level often rose to above 80 decibels. Tr. 454. Mr. Fierstein, an acoustical consultant, testified that

in order for music to be listened to and properly appreciated you have to have a 15 to 20 signal to noise ratio. By that I mean the difference between the sound of the music and the sound of the ambient traffic.

Tr.455. Thus, even if the average ambient sound level in Times Square does not exceed 71 decibels, the jury could reasonably have concluded that the 75 decibel limit placed on plaintiff's sound device permits was unreasonable. By crediting this expert testimony, the jury could reasonably conclude that plaintiff's music would not be heard in the Times Square area when the difference between the "signal" -- his music played at 75 decibels at 6 feet -- and the "noise" -- an ambient sound level of 71 decibels -- is only 4 decibels.