Flipping the Bird - Legal, According to the Constitution - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

A federal appeals court ruled that “Fits of rudeness or lack of gratitude may violate the Golden Rule. But that doesn’t make them illegal or for that matter punishable.”

Why?

Because Michigan woman Debra Cruise-Gulyas. Cruise-Gulyas was pulled over for speeding in 2017. The officer let her go after writing her a ticket for a lesser violation – but she was still upset about the incident, so as she was pulling away, she flipped him the bird.

The officer, Matthew Minard, flipped on his lights and pulled her over again. He rewrote the ticket for speeding.

Cruise-Gulyas sued, arguing that giving the officer the finger was her First Amendment right.

The court agreed – and also said that once the officer let Cruise-Gulyas go, he needed a legitimate reason to pull her over again. The court said that detaining Cruise-Gulyas without reason constituted a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights, as well.

“Cruise-Gulyas did not break any law that would justify the second stop and at most was exercising her free speech rights,” wrote the court.

Minard tried to compare his actions in pulling the woman over a second time to what a prosecutor might do – yanking a plea deal when the person refuses to cooperate. He also wanted the case dismissed because he said he had “qualified immunity,” which is an argument that says police can’t be sued for the things they do in a professional capacity. The court didn’t buy it, though. (Ordinarily, they would – except when an officer violates a person’s clearly established constitutional or statutory rights.)

The court decided that when Minard issued Cruise-Gulyas an upgraded ticket, he was really trying to quell her right to free speech, as well as trying to deter her from expressing herself in similar ways in the future. The court’s opinion also explained, “Any reasonable officer would know that a citizen who raises her middle finger engages in speech protected by the First Amendment.”

So while you can give police the finger, we still recommend that you don’t.

What Do You Think?

Do you think that giving a cop the finger should be protected by the Constitution? Have you ever done or seen something similar? I’d love to hear your take, so please join the conversation on my Facebook page or on my Twitter feed.

Carlos Gamino