Court Backs Driver Who Gave Police the Finger

Ruling says the gesture is free speech, though possibly rude
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 15, 2019 2:34 PM CDT
Court Backs Driver Who Gave Police the Finger
An Illinois State Police officer walks toward a driver to issue a speeding ticket on I-72.   (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

It may not seem like you're protected at the time, but if you make a gesture to a police officer that means the opposite of "Have a nice day," a federal appeals court has your back. A Michigan police officer pulled a driver over for speeding in 2017 and instead gave her a ticket for a lesser crime, a non-moving violation, NPR reports. Debra Cruise-Gulyas gave officer Matthew Minard the finger as she drove away—or, as the Sixth Circuit ruling put it, made a hand gesture "without four of her fingers showing." Minard then pulled her over again and replaced her ticket with one for speeding. Cruise-Gulyas filed a suit saying that finger was protected by the First Amendment.

The ruling means the lawsuit can move forward. The gesture may have been rude, but rudeness isn't necessarily "illegal or for that matter punishable," the court said. There was a Fourth Amendment conflict, too. The officer had no good reason to pull Cruise-Gulyas over the second time, per NPR, so detaining her violated the "unreasonable seizure" protection. Drivers can take comfort in the court's opinion that "any reasonable officer" would know that a raised middle finger is an exercise in free speech. Minard was suspended last month, the Detroit News reports, as part of a corruption investigation. (A bicyclist who flipped off Trump lost her job.)

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