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Appeals court: Motorist cannot be stopped for giving police the middle finger

A motorist cannot be stopped for “giving the finger” to a police officer, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

In a lawsuit against two police officers, the court held the insulting gesture did not constitute “reasonable suspicion that criminal activity or a traffic violation was afoot.”

The lawsuit was sparked by an incident that occurred in 2006 while John Swartz and his wife Judy Mayton-Swartz were driving to their son’s house.

The couple saw a police officer using a radar gun to catch speeding motorists at an intersection. John, who was a passenger in the car, stuck his arm outside the side window and “flipped the bird” over the car’s roof. The police officer then followed the couple to their son’s home and stopped them. John was arrested for disorderly conduct after other officers arrived as backup.

The officer who initially followed and stopped the couple said he did so because John appeared to be trying to get his attention by waving his middle finger. However, the court didn’t buy that argument.

“[T]he nearly universal recognition that this gesture is an insult deprives such an interpretation of reasonableness,” Circuit Judge Jon O. Newman wrote in the ruling (PDF). “This ancient gesture of insult is not the basis for a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity. Surely no passenger planning some wrongful conduct toward another occupant of an automobile would call attention to himself by giving the finger to a police officer.”

The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York dismissed the lawsuit in 2011. The U.S. Court of Appeals vacated that ruling and ordered the case to be reviewed by the lower court again.

by Anonymousreply 801/04/2013

But there are a thousand other things they can stop you for, and are only too happy to do so: why antagonize them? I'm really glad that we have this right, but that doesn't mean it needs to be exercized.

by Anonymousreply 101/03/2013

Had the driver been black or Latino, he'd be dead.

by Anonymousreply 201/04/2013

It will only be through similar encounters and subsequent lawsuits that we will begin to exert some control over uncontrolled police forces. If a cop can stop his car, get out of his car, approach you in your driveway and then beat you to within an inch of your life because you deigned to point a video camera in his direction, then there is something seriously wrong with law enforcement. R1, that is the attitude of a powerless public. Grow some balls.

by Anonymousreply 301/04/2013

Very thoughtful ruling. Ridiculous that these officers were offended by the gesture and treated the defendants as criminals. Following them to the son's home and requesting backup? Abuse of power.

by Anonymousreply 401/04/2013

They night not be able to pull you over for flipping them off, but don't think they wont then pull you over for some other reason or get your info and make your life hell by some other means.

by Anonymousreply 501/04/2013

Yes r5. In legal jargon, it's called pretext.

by Anonymousreply 601/04/2013

Lessons the Police Learn from this: Don't say it was because he flipped you off. Make up something else.

by Anonymousreply 701/04/2013

Nowhere in America are the police more corrupt, obnoxious and abusive than in New York City.

All this about NYPD being the pride of law enforcement worldwide and being idolized as heroes and such is absolute bullshit.

I've always LOVED the NYPD and admired them until, after living here in NYC a few years and twice having experiences with them when needing them for making reports, etc., I learned just how nasty and vile they really are.

They're mostly a thug force, HUGE force. The city hires people at the bottom of the barrel because they want an army, not necessarily intelligent police officers.

by Anonymousreply 801/04/2013
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