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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Update on "contempt of cop" cases

People sometimes find my blog by searching for some variation on "Is it okay to be rude to a cop?" It leads them to the post Being rude to the police: dumb, not criminal, which is about the case of a Colorado man who gave the finger to a state trooper while driving by. The man was stopped and given a criminal summons to appear in court to face a charge of harassment, which carries a penalty of up to six months in prison. Six months in prison, for expressing something to a police officer something which you could express to any civilian with no penalty whatsoever. In this case, the ACLU went to bat for the man, arguing that what he did was protected under the First Amendment, and the charges were dropped.

There have been a couple of similar cases lately which have come to the same conclusion.

Last June in Ohio, a woman honked and gave police chief Roger Moore, who was driving his personal car, the finger after he'd attempted to change lanes into the one she was currently occupying. Instead of being embarrassed for his poor driving, Moore decided to pull the woman over and charge her with disorderly conduct. Moore's lawyer argued in court that the woman's behavior effectively constituted "fighting words," but the judge ruled against that. The lawyer said she's considering appealing.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that giving a police officer the finger is not grounds for the officer to pull you over and arrest you. A married couple had both been arrested for-- you guessed it-- disorderly conduct after they'd driven by a police officer using radar, whom the husband flipped off. In its opinion, the court held that the "ancient gesture of insult is not the basis for suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity."

So it appears the title of my previous post stands. Dumb, not criminal...and only dumb because it's likely to get you treated as a criminal.

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