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Flipping off a cop

Last updated: Dec. 21, 2016

By , Insure.com

Upset cop by barrier

Similar to cursing at a cop, it’s not smart to make offensive gestures at law officers – and it’s a terrible tactic for getting out of a ticket. However, it’s not going to get you tossed in a jail cell. Your First Amendment rights come to your rescue.

The ACLU, which in 2011 provided criminal defense services for a driver in Denver who flipped off a police offer, told the Denver Post, “The protection of the Constitution is not limited to speech that is acceptable in polite society. The First Amendment also protects expression that may be disrespectful, coarse or even vulgar. It's rude to flip off a cop, but it's not a crime."

The harassment charge against the driver was dropped, and the Colorado State Patrol described the incident as “protected free speech.”

In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that giving the middle finger to a police officer is not a reason to be arrested. The 14-page opinion, in part, stated that the “ancient gesture of insult” is not a valid reason for a traffic stop or suspicion of impending criminal activity. The case in question stems back to 2006 when a passenger in a car flipped off a cop who was using a radar device at an intersection in St. Johnsville, New York.  The car was pulled over, and the passenger cited for disorderly conduct.

The legal ramifications of flipping off another driver, or cop, is a subject that some have researched quite thoroughly  For instance, Ira P. Robbins, a professor of law and justice at American University, has a research paper on the use of the middle finger and the First Amendment titled “Digitus Impudicus: The Middle Finger and the Law.” It cites several examples of law enforcement officers being given the middle finger and in all but one of the cases, the conviction was overturned on appeal because the First Amendment protects the “rights of middle finger users.”

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