The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was short and to the point in ruling this week that giving the finger to a cop is free speech and you can’t be pulled over for doing so.
“Fits of rudeness or lack of gratitude may violate the Golden Rule. But that doesn’t make them illegal or for that matter punishable or for that matter grounds for a seizure,” Judge Stuart Sutton wrote on behalf of the panel, which ruled in the case of Debra Cruise-Gulyas, who was stopped by officer Matthew Minard in Taylor, Mich., for speeding.
Minard gave Cruise-Gulyas a break, writing her up under a less serious infraction.
Let’s let Judge Sutton tell the story from here…
As she drove away, Cruise-Gulyas repaid Minard’s kindness by raising her middle finger at him. Minard pulled Cruise-Gulyas over a second time, less than 100 yards from where the initial stop occurred, and amended the ticket to a speeding violation.
In his opinion this week, Judge Sutton said the probable cause to pull the woman over ended after she got the first ticket. That makes the case a question of whether making “an all-too-familiar gesture at Minard with her hand and without four of her fingers showing,” as Sutton described it, is an infraction.
It’s crude; it’s not criminal, the judge said in ruling that her lawsuit for violating her rights can go forward.
As alleged, the first stop had ended, a constitutionally significant event, before the officer initiated the second, unjustified stop. The Supreme Court has said that any justification for the first stop ceases when that stop ends.
These facts more closely resemble a prosecutor who tries to revoke a defendant’s deal a few days after everyone has agreed to it or a judge who hauls the defendant back into court a week or two after imposing a sentence based on the defendant’s after-the-fact speech.
Those examples seem more problematic and more in keeping with today’s decision. Minard, in short, clearly had no proper basis for seizing Cruise-Gulyas a second time.