A Michigan woman has been allowed to advance a lawsuit after a U.S. court ruled that giving a police officer the middle finger is a form of free speech. It’s not the first time “flipping the bird” has been debated by judges in the U.S. While this case certainly reaffirms one’s right to be rude to an officer, it is not an endorsement of such gestures.
The case stems from a traffic stop in June of 2017. Michigan police officer Matthew W. Minard pulled over Debra L. Cruise-Gulyas for driving over the speed limit. Officer Minard reduced her ticket to a non-moving violation, which, like in New York State, is less serious than a speeding ticket. Nonetheless upset, Cruise-Gulyas gave Minard the middle finger as she drove away. This, in turn, prompted the officer to pull her over again and escalate her initial ticket to a full speeding ticket.
She appealed the decision in court and won on the basis that each stop was actually two separate stops and that the officer’s rights to issue a ticket ended at the conclusion of the initial stop. Moreover, she claimed in the lawsuit that, by pulling her over a second time, Minard violated her right to freely express her dissatisfaction at having been ticketed in the first place. She also claimed the officer violated her Fourth Amendment rights, claiming the second stop was an unreasonable seizure; and her 14th Amendment right to “liberty.”
The case echoed similar incidents involving individuals flipping off officers. In 2013, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a teenage girl who was arrested after showing two middle fingers to an officer. Also in 2013, another U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against an officer who arrested a man who for giving him the middle finger while passing by in a car. That officer had followed the car and a verbal confrontation ensued, resulting in the man’s arrest.
In Cruise-Gulyas’ and both 2013 cases, the officers claimed to have “qualified immunity.” Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, an officer asserts that the rights that were restricted were not clearly established and that he/she was acting in good faith. The officers were denied immunity in all cases.
It’s worth noting that, while a form of protected speech, giving an officer the middle finger is not a strategically wise decision. After all, most cops are just doing their jobs and do not mean to harass or harm the average driver. Further, as happened to Cruise-Gulyas, rude or belligerent behavior can result in additional tickets or charges, which may result in a long (and expensive) legal battle.
If you or a loved one has been caught speeding (whether or not you gave the cop the finger), it is advisable that you consult an attorney to help you avoid the costs associated with a ticket. The lawyers of the Rosenblum Law are skilled New York traffic ticket attorneys who are experienced in handling tickets for speeding and many other driving-related offenses. Call 888-815-3649 or Email the Rosenblum Law today for a free consultation about your case.