Court: Flipping Off a Cop is Free Speech (But We Don’t Recommend It)

“Fits of rudeness or lack of gratitude may violate the Golden Rule, but that doesn’t make them illegal or for that matter punishable.”

Court: Flipping Off a Cop is Free Speech (But We Don’t Recommend It)

In a 3-0 ruling, the court said citizens can give a police officer the middle finger because of the First Amendment.

A federal court ruled that it is a citizen’s right, under the Constitution, to make a rude gesture at a police officer if they so please.

In 2017, a woman in Michigan was pulled over by a police officer for speeding, reports NPR. The officer reduced the ticket to a lesser violation.

As she drove away, the woman, Debra Cruise-Gulyas, decided to give the officer the middle finger.

Or, as the court put it, “she made an all-too-familiar gesture at [Officer Matthew] Minard with her hand and without four of her fingers showing.” Can you picture it?

After seeing the unpleasant gesture, Minard decided to pull Cruise-Guylas over again, only this time he rewrote the ticket for speeding.

Cruise-Guylas sued the officer, arguing she was protected under the First Amendment and free speech allows her to put up any finger she wanted.

In the ruling this week, Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote, “Fits of rudeness or lack of gratitude may violate the Golden Rule, but that doesn’t make them illegal or for that matter punishable.”

The court also said that after Minard pulled over Cruise-Guylas the first time, he needed a legitimate reason to do it a second time.

“Cruise-Guylas did not break any laws that would justify the second stop and at most was exercising her free speech rights,” the court wrote. “Any reasonable officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment.”

Minard compared his actions to a prosecutor who might go back on a plea deal if a defendant behaved offensively, but the court was not convinced.

“Minard, in short, clearly had no proper basis for seizing Cruise-Guylas a second time.”

The case will now go back to the U.S. District Court for further proceedings.

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Katie Malafronte is Campus Safety's Web Editor. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2017 with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Writing & Rhetoric. Katie has been CS's Web Editor since 2018.

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