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Good News, Angry American Drivers: the Middle Finger Is Protected Speech

Gif: Polygram Filmed Entertainment

It may be rude and crude. It probably isn’t the way your mama raised you to behave. But it is not illegal, or so says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

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The case that prompted this decision comes from a Michigan driver named Debra Cruise-Gulyas was pulled over for speeding in 2017 by Officer Matthew Minard the Taylor Police Department, according to an NPR report. The officer stopped her for speeding, but let her off with a lesser, non-moving violation.

While most of us would drive away feeling lucky and grateful for the lower fine, Cruise-Gulyas was reportedly not having it. As she pulled away, she displayed what the court called an “all-too-familiar gesture at [Officer Matthew] Minard with her hand and without four of her fingers showing.”

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Minard’s was understandably irritated and immediately pulled Cruise-Gulyas over again, this time handing her the heavier speeding ticket. Cruise-Gulyas sued on the basis of free speech protected by the First Amendment. The appeals court agreed.

The judges voted unanimously 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.”

It wasn’t just her First Amendment rights that were violated, the court decided, but her Fourth Amendment rights as well. Since Cruise-Gulyas had been released from the first stop, there was no legal reason for the officer to pull her over a second time, resulting in an “unreasonable seizure.”

Thanks to the ruling, Cruise-Gulyas’ lawsuit against the police department can move forward, and we can flip off cops to our hearts’ delight—though it’s still probably not a fantastic idea. 

Managing Editor of Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

ash78
Ash78, voting early and often

Sounds like the officer was in the right here to me. He initially let her off easy, then later made her take the whole penalty that she was originally entitled to. Assuming he didn’t just fabricate a charge out of the blue, this all sounds good to me. In terms of being a jerk to a cop, that’s a pretty light punishment as any teenager or person of color can probably attest.