Appellate Court Rules It Okay to Flip Off a Cop
Updated: Mar 21, 2019
The United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued a ruling on Wednesday where they stated it was okay to give a police officer the middle finger. In Debra Cruise-Gulyas v. Matthew Minard, an appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the Court held 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 or for that matter grounds for a seizure."
In that case, the police officer pulled over Debra Cruise-Gulyas for speeding. Rather than issue her a citation for speeding, the officer wrote Ms. Cruise-Gulays a ticket for a non-moving violation. As they were leaving, Ms. Cruise-Gulyas gave the officer a middle finger salute to show her gratitude. The officer, in turn, pulled her over again less than 100 yards from the original stop and issued a ticket for the more serious violation. Ms. Cruise-Gulyas sued the officer under Section 1983 of the United States Code for violating her constitutional rights, namely the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. In ruling for Ms. Cruise-Gulyas, the Court found that the officer did violate her First and Fourth Amendment rights. In discussing the decision, the Court upheld the longstanding principle that there must be "a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot" in order to make a stop of a citizen. Here, the Court determined that the second stop was distinct from the first, and thus required its own reason in order to be initiated. After examining the facts, the Court held that the officer did not have probable cause for the second stop.
Further, the Court held that the officer should have known that his actions were a First Amendment violation because giving someone the middle finger is protected speech and his issuance of the ticket was likely to discourage such free speech in the future.
While there is no question that Ms. Cruise-Gulyas' actions were rude, that did not give the officer reason to stop her and issue a citation the second time. Regardless, just because her actions were lawful, doesn't mean they weren't