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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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Jacob H, May 15th, 2014 @ 4:19pm

    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)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 4:24pm

    I'd have changed my last name to Copslie and insisted it was pronounced 'Copslee'. Prove me wrong.

    Thinking about it, Montenegro sounds kind-of furrin, maybe that had something to do with his difficulties dealing with trogs. Copslie is so much easier to say and spell.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 4:24pm

    Re:

    So I take it that you will never ever speak poorly of another public official ever again?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 4:27pm

    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.

     

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  5.  
    icon
    Internet Zen Master (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 4:33pm

    Re: Representation

    and happen, and happen, and happen (ad nauseam)..

    It'd be like the gift that keeps on giving for cops!

    Wait...

    Doesn't that make his license plate to cops what herpes is to normal people?

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, May 15th, 2014 @ 4:39pm

    I prefer GRL-LVR or LOLILVR.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Internet Zen Master (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 4:41pm

    Re:

    Pretty sure the second option would definitely get you pulled over a lot...

    Of course, this assumes most cops know what the phrase 'loli' means to a huge chunk of the net...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 5:14pm

    Re: Representation

    Perhaps it is a sting operation for the police/lawsuit trolling. Catch them in misconduct and sue their blue pants off.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 5:39pm

    Re: Re:

    Maybe they think lolicon means an icon that makes you laugh

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, May 15th, 2014 @ 6:24pm

    His license plate is right up there with the bumper-sticker that says..."Bad cop, no donut".

    It's funny but like poking a beehive...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 6:30pm

    Re: Re:

    I wouldn't tattoo it to my forehead to be judged by it every time I ran into a cop.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 6:42pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 6:49pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 7:30pm

    This guy better hope he never has a break light out.

     

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  15.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 7:42pm

    Re:

    This whole statement of yours proves beyond any doubt that you just do not understand the true reasoning behind "freedom of speech/expression"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 7:45pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 8:19pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2014 @ 8:26pm

    Re:

    You do not deserve freedom of speech.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 9:15pm

    Re:

    The point of the First Amendment is not to protect speech you like, that will take care of itself. The point of the First Amendment is to protect speech you don't like.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Techanon, May 15th, 2014 @ 9:36pm

    Re: char lim

    It's not that hard, take your pick:
    GOVLIES,
    PRESLIES,
    FBILIES,
    NSALIES,
    CIALIES,
    TSALIES,
    USALIES,

    or ,[insert 3 letter agency or organization]LIES

    and enjoy your controversial vanity plate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), May 15th, 2014 @ 9:38pm

    Re: Re: char lim

    easier

    USGLIES

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Zem, May 15th, 2014 @ 10:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: char lim

    youlie

    now everyone is coevered

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    PRMan, May 16th, 2014 @ 10:04am

    Re: Representation

    I'd be calling a Russian dashcam company and getting one that uploads to the cloud 24x7.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Robin Lionheart, May 16th, 2014 @ 10:22am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), May 16th, 2014 @ 4:25pm

    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?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Tamara Green, May 16th, 2014 @ 4:39pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 16th, 2014 @ 7:57pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), May 16th, 2014 @ 9:04pm

    Not just cops

    From the linked LA Times article: The New Hampshire Attorney Generalís 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?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), May 16th, 2014 @ 9:10pm

    Re:

    Even better, wear a T-shirt saying "Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo the police!" They can't say it's an obscenity because not many children are confident in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, but everyone else will get it, especially those who use that alphabet in their jobs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), May 17th, 2014 @ 5:58pm

    Re: Not just cops

    It's not a purchase though, but a license.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), May 18th, 2014 @ 12:53am

    Re: Re: Re:

    That works... though driving with a brake light out while smelling a distinctive odour from the vehicle that must be that Evil weed works too.

    Sadly this is not sarcasm and more true than hypothetical.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), May 18th, 2014 @ 10:44pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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