Giving Cops The Finger Is Protected Speech, Says Another Federal Court

from the learn-faster,-idiots dept

Another federal court has given its official approval of flipping the bird to cops. This isn’t to say it’s a wise idea, just a Constitutional one. Extending the middle finger is protected speech. Detentions or arrests that follow bird-flipping are usually unsupported by any of things officers need to have on hand (probable cause, reasonable suspicion, etc.) to deprive someone of their liberty.

Other cops have argued the hand gesture that pissed them off so much they broke the Constitution is some sort of universal distress signal. The ensuing interaction wasn’t about being offended, but rather their outsized concern someone in the vehicle might be in need of assistance. Courts have found this argument literally unbelievable.

In this case, the cop being sued made no such argument. Instead, Officer Wayne Minard maintained he had probable cause to pull Debra Cruise-Guylas over again because he had only issued a warning about her speeding. The court doesn’t agree with this assessment. It points out Guylas had already been pulled over for speeding. The citation ultimately issued by Officer Minard may have been for impeding traffic, but the purpose of the original stop was fulfilled when the citation was issued. No further violation had occurred when Minard pulled Guylas over a second time. From the decision [PDF]: (h/t Adam Steinbaugh)

The evidence before the Court included a state court record that established the Plaintiff had received and paid a ticket for impeding traffic. […] While Defendant could have, at that time, issued a ticket for speeding, he did not. It was only after the initial stop had been completed, and Plaintiff drove off and “flipped the bird” that Defendant stopped her a second time without any legal justification.

Also, the cop’s lawyer wasn’t much help:

[A]t the September 21, 2018 hearing, Defendant’s counsel conceded: “No doubt the gesture helped — it probably was the foundation for the change of his [Defendant’s] mind” [to implement a second stop] … “I can’t argue around that, your Honor.”

The court notes there’s plenty of precedent on point that says officers can’t detain people for offending them. The lawsuit proceeds and Officer Minard will have to deal with the unpleasant outcome of his idiotic actions.

The Constitution may cover giving officers the finger, but that doesn’t mean officers won’t make you miserable for exercising your First Amendment rights. Sure, you may gain some satisfaction from the courts, but you’ll be out a lot of time and money. This isn’t to say self-censorship is the way to go, but there are real costs attached to exercising your freedoms if you happen to anger the wrong [sigh] “public servant.”

Government employees can violate rights in mere seconds and defend against allegations using someone else’s money. Citizens don’t have that luxury, which is why stupid shit like this continues to happen. A better cop would have let it go, costing no one anything. Officer Minard isn’t one of those cops, and his willingness to abuse the power entrusted to him should be a major concern to his employers.

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Comments on “Giving Cops The Finger Is Protected Speech, Says Another Federal Court”

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dadtaxi says:

it'' cost you anyway, and thats a problem

“but you’ll be out a lot of time and money.[ . . .] but there are real costs attached to exercising your freedoms”

I’ve said it many times. You should be able to reclaim costs when being found not guilty. May not stop a butt-hurt cop, but it would give the prosecutor real pause and rethink on even charging (let alone taking all the way to trial) if losing a case means paying ALL the costs.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: it'' cost you anyway, and thats a problem

Kinda lends to the argument for having the government pay for both sides of prosecutions. Create a budget for any given trial and split it in half, with one half going to the prosecutors and the other half to the defendant. It would solve the problem of the have not’s, but probably create others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: it'' cost you anyway, and thats a problem

If the courts are not free access then justice is only for those whom can afford it.

I would rather deal with the other problems.

When the charges are criminal the government should pay for both sides.

If the charges involve a business or fellow citizen then both sides should be limited to the side with the least spend on the case. Right down to the penny!

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

She was pulled over for speeding, but only given a warning. She then flipped him the bird, so he pulled her over again and wrote a ticket for impeding traffic.

She really was a dumb-ass. When a cop pulls you over and only gives you a warning, you thank him kindly and go about your business. It may be protected speech, but she’s still a dumb-ass.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think at this point there is enough precedent that if a cop tries this you SHOULD sue for punitive damages/legal fees, this is clearly established and all cops/departments should be aware of this by now as a violation of the first amendment AND repeatedly punished by the courts. It is unreasonable to allow people to continue to pay to defend themselves against harassment that has been established to be unconstitutional.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Yes and no

Officer Minard isn’t one of those cops, and his willingness to abuse the power entrusted to him should be a major concern to his employers.

It should be of major concern to his future employers, and his past employers, but it shouldn’t be of concern to his current employers because he shouldn’t have any.

Someone displaying such a willingness to abuse his power should in no way be in a position of power, and as such he should be given the boot as soon as possible.

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