Feel free to flip off a cop. It’s protected free speech.
Well, actually don’t. It’s also really dumb speech.
Woman gets stopped for speeding. Cop shows mercy and gives her a ticket for a nonmoving violation. As police officer pulls away, however, woman gives him the finger – or, as a U.S. District Court puts it, “flips him the bird.”
Cop takes offense, switches on lights and siren and stops her again, ploughing into her car in the process and then, on top of that, changing the original ticket to a moving violation.
She sues the officer for violating her constitutional rights.
Normally, cases like this one don’t get quite this far.
For one thing, most drivers don’t ordinarily give cops the finger as they pull away, especially when the officer has just let them off with a nonmoving violation.
But Cruise-Gulyas told The Washington Post that she was unhappy because, according to her, the area where she was pulled over in June 2017 about 18 miles southwest of Detroit is a notorious “speed trap” for the Taylor Police Department.
“I know this is a bunch of B.S.,” she said, so “when I pulled off I gave him the middle finger.”
And Minard went to the appeals court claiming immunity from the suit, arguing that even if he did violate her rights, which he did not admit to doing, those rights were not clearly established.
Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel Wednesday, disagreed.
While suggesting the woman was a bit “ungrateful,” the second stop was not reasonable and the officer should have known it, Sutton said.
To justify the second stop, he wrote, Minard needed “probable cause that she had committed” a violation.
He didn’t have it, the judge said. Giving the finger is not a crime. That “all too familiar gesture,” as he put it, is “protected by the First Amendment.”
Since there was no reason to believe she broke the law, he also violated her Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure when he pulled her over again.
While I applaud the court’s decision I’m reminded that hard cases make bad law. Or, dumb law. If you know you’re in a known speed trap area, then do not speed. If you do and you get pulled over, and the kind officer lets you off with a warning, then take it with gratitude.
Takes all kinds.