An appeals court decision recently made news when judges ruled unanimously that giving the police the middle finger is protected free speech and cannot be used as grounds for a traffic stop. That being said, just because you have the right to flip off the police, it’s still probably something you don’t want to make a habit of.
Your Right to Flip Off the Police
The decision was part of a court case wherein a woman was pulled over for speeding and given a lesser non-moving violation ticket, which the officer replaced with a speeding ticket after he pulled the woman over a second time when she gave him the finger. The court unanimously ruled that while the gesture might be rude, it is still free speech and not sufficient grounds to justify a traffic stop. This means that rude behaviors towards police such as using the middle finger, displaying a “bad cop, no donut” sticker or even hanging a flag that says “f- the police” in your rear windshield is protected free speech and police cannot pull you over for any of these things.
Don’t Flip Anyone off Just Yet
There are many things in life that you can do, but probably shouldn’t. The right to flip off the police is absolutely one of those things. That’s because while it cannot be used as an excuse to pull you over, it can give the officer motivation to pull you over for something he may not have stopped you for otherwise. Little things like not turning your headlights on during a rainstorm, going a few miles an hour over the speed limit or failing to use a turn signal are all valid excuses for a traffic stop.
Even worse, once you have been pulled over for something simple, the officer might be irritated enough to look for an excuse to search you or arrest you. If he smells alcohol, sees some kind of drug paraphernalia such as a pipe, believes your eyes look bloodshot, your speech is slurred or that your pupils are dilated, he has probable cause to detain you for suspected drunk or drugged driving. Even if you are totally sober, this is can still result in a frustrating waste of your time and, of course, if you are intoxicated, it can result in criminal charges. That’s why most criminal lawyers advise against purposefully antagonizing the police for no reason.
If you want to criticize the behavior of the police publicly, you might be better off doing so at a rally, town hall or other political forum, and not through the window of your car as you drive. That being said, if you believe you were wrongly targeted and stopped for exercising your First Amendment right to flip off the police, Peter Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.