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.” …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.
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.”
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.