New Hampshire Man With 'COPSLIE' License Plate Wins Free Speech Battle, Lifetime Of Police Harassment

from the sir,-do-you-have-any-idea-how-fast-I've-decided-you-were-going? dept

A win for free speech (as expressed by vanity license plates) has just been handed down by the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The plate at the center of the case — “COPSLIE” — was originally deemed to be “offensive to good taste” by a lower court, which felt a “reasonable person” would be offended that the driver of this vehicle believed that cops do, in fact, lie.

And they do. They do it more often than most people think. Everyone knows it, even the judges, and yet no one does much about it, because throwing a handful of exculpatory wrenches into the criminal “justice” gears only creates headaches for those least willing to deal with them (prosecutors, judges, DAs — basically anyone who doesn’t get jailed/fined as a result of the lies). Cops lie because they’re a) human beings and b) many of their incentives are perverse.

So, when David Montenegro tried to state that fact via a delivery system easily viewable by any cop he drove by, the state told him he couldn’t because some “reasonable person” (most likely a cop) would be offended by his factual statement. Montenegro could have made this statement about any group (politicians, priests, parents, kids, school administrators, lawyers, the media), but he chose to highlight this aspect of policing.

Montenegro knew the DMV’s lazy rationale was faulty. In fact, he proved it. He submitted a backup request — GR8GOVT — which was approved. So, he took his case to the state’s Supreme Court, which exposed the arbitrary nature of the DMV’s “reasonable person” excuse.

The challenged portion of the regulation prohibits vanity registration plates that “a reasonable person would find offensive to good taste.” The phrase “offensive to good taste” is not defined in the regulation. Further, to the extent the phrase could be construed to prohibit obscene material, we note that a separate provision in the regulation prohibits vanity registration plates that are “capable of an obscene interpretation.” …

Taken together, [the dictionary definitions of the words in the regulation] lead to various potential interpretations of the phrase “offensive to good taste.” For example, one such interpretation could be that no vanity registration plates are allowed that are “insulting to the standard of morality or virtue of individual preference.”

The DMV stated that it had a “reasonable person” standard for offensiveness while also noting that different people would naturally find different things offensive. It’s one thing to have a set standard. It’s quite another to deploy contradictory stances as official policy. Because when you do that, you don’t actually have a policy — you have an informal straw poll.

To the extent the DMV argues that its reasoning for denying the petitioner’s requested vanity registration plate [COPSLIE] in this case aids in interpreting the phrase “offensive to good taste,” we disagree. The DMV initially denied the petitioner’s request because several DMV employees believed the text to be “insulting.”

There’s where the true issue is. The blue team protecting itself and the government in general insulating itself from criticism through arbitrary enforcement of vague policies.

So, Montenegro gets the win and the plates he always wanted. In addition to securing a bit more free speech, Montenegro will also receive a lifetime of hassling by The Man and, quite possibly, the Home Version of said hassling.

Cops may not like someone confronting them (via license plate) with the fact that many citizens don’t find them particularly trustworthy. But they’d be better off just letting this plate cruise by (while being passively collected by a license plate reader) without retaliation. Montenegro’s already made one point. There’s no need to make the rest of his points for him.

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Comments on “New Hampshire Man With 'COPSLIE' License Plate Wins Free Speech Battle, Lifetime Of Police Harassment”

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33 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No worries, I totally understand what you mean.

You won’t dare stand behind your convictions to the point that people think you are crazy, the way this guy does. It’s cool, you are with the majority on this. It is rare to find courage.

I won’t agree with what he did, one can attract more flies with honey instead of vinegar, however, I will also not deride him for his decision as it is quite a well known fact that Cops Lie.

Take these things into account the next time you are so ready to jump on the bandwagon that requires no courage to ride.

Jacob H (profile) says:

char lim

” Montenegro could have made this statement about any group (politicians, priests, parents, kids, school administrators, lawyers, the media), but he chose to highlight this aspect of policing”

Actually, that seems like it would be somewhat hard to do given a 7-8 character limit and a dearth of short synonyms for those professions (POLSLIE? PRSTSLIE? Not exactly decipherable… OK, KIDSLIE and LWYRSLIE are pretty good)

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Representation

I sure hope this guy has the phone number for his attorney committed to memory, along with the ACLU, EFF, Popehat, as well as several of the various methods for recording and pushing those recordings to the ‘cloud’ whereby they will be picked up by photographyisnotacrime and other police misconduct sites.

Maybe a couple of trailing photographers and video cameras would be good, ’cause this is an incident waiting to happen, and happen, and happen.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

On the one hand, yeah, it does seem like an unnecessary ‘poking the badger with a spoon’ thing, yet on the other hand, any cops so pathetically insecure that something like this would cause more than a chuckle/momentary annoyance, are exactly the kind of people who have no business being cops.

If something as simple as mildly critical/insulting license plate is enough to get a rise out of someone, you can bet they’d be much, much worse in actually serious or stressful situations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Deliberately provocative random speech.

Not something I’d like to have to use as an example of free speech.

Would be nice if people could get the difference between freedom of speech and just being a cock.

Doesn’t need to be legislated but this kind of thing says a lot more about the person who displays it than it does about anyone or anything else.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why?

In fact the bar is now set higher for any LEO to show that they are not specifically targeting him due to his lawful license plate.

If I was advising any LEO who was about to initiate any contact on this vehicle it would be to have specific and provable reasons to do so.

Sadly this is not the case in anyone NOT having a license plate like this, and there is the inherent problem with all authority structures.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Why?

In fact the bar is now set higher for any LEO to show that they are not specifically targeting him due to his lawful license plate.

If I was advising any LEO who was about to initiate any contact on this vehicle it would be to have specific and provable reasons to do so.

Such as… driving with a brake light out?

Robin Lionheart (user link) says:

Maybe police harassment isn't a change for him

Many people of color in America already experience a lifetime of police harassment even without critical license plates. And one might presume that a driver with a COPSLIE license plate had already had some negative encounters with law enforcement. So perhaps becoming a target of police harassment would not be a chance in situation for Mr. Montenegro.

Tamara Green says:

Sometimes, you win the battle but you end up losing the war. It would be fascinating to put on a T-shirt with a large and completely visible slogan such as “Fuck the police!” and then put on a pair of Google Glasses, and then walk the streets in urban Los Angeles for the next 24 hours. I’m confident that I wouldn’t get through those 24 hours without some seriously negative interactions with law enforcement. It’s not worth it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think that analogy is correct. What this person is doing seems more geared towards delivering a message to everyone else, and, IMO at least, that is worth it. Not everyone knows that it is both legal and encouraged for police to lie in this country, even though lying to them is illegal.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Not just cops

From the linked LA Times article: The New Hampshire Attorney General?s office, which represented the DMV, said it was reviewing the decision. The state had argued that it was not prohibiting speech, but rather merely setting a generally acceptable standard for speech on government property.
Going by the paragraph quoted above, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office also lies. After all, if someone has to pay for license plates, doesn’t that make them their property, not the government’s?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Not just cops

“doesn’t that make them their property, not the government’s?”

Not in my state, and I’d be surprised if it were true in any state. My state is quite clear — the license plates are always the property of the state, and must be relinquished on demand, and also must be returned when they are no longer applicable.

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