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    Can you be arrested for flipping off a cop?

    Date: 06.01.11 | by Natalie Jacobs.

    A 35 year old man in Colorado was criminally charged in May 2011 for exactly this conduct – flipping off a cop. Shane Boor was on his way to work when he passed a state trooper who had pulled over another motorist off the side of the road. As he passed by, Shane gave the trooper the finger as an expression of his disapproval and belief the trooper was harassing an innocent motorist. Shortly after he arrived at his work site, another state trooper showed up and questioned Shane about the hand gesture. He was issued a summons to appear in court for “harassment”. Shane has no criminal record and was facing up to six months in jail.

    The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) quickly got involved and represented Shane against the charges. The ACLU legal director, Mark Silverstein, stated, “our client engaged in peaceful, silent symbolic expression that is protected by [the] First Amendment.” Shortly after the charges were filed and the ACLU attorney’s notice of appearance was filed with the court, the Colorado State Patrol (the law enforcement agency the troopers are employed with) requested the matter be dropped and the charges dismissed.

    Photo by Pithawat Vachiramon

    The Colorado State Patrol did the right thing when it requested that the charges be dismissed as other courts already have decided that flipping off a cop, although impolite and disrespectful, is protected expression under the First Amendment. It’s important to note that the First Amendment is about freedom of speech and protecting not just civil, polite speech, but speech that is offensive and insulting.

    We certainly do not condone or encourage this type of behavior. There are better, more mature, sensitive and respectful ways to communicate your feelings with the police. Although flipping the bird may be considered protected expression by a court of law, it is not the “right” thing to do to an authority figure or anyone else for that matter. Think before you flip.

    Update: How things turn out when you decide to use your middle finger depends on your location. On June 30, 2011, 28 year old Matthew Bartlett gave the finger to lawyer Jeff Ashton. Matthew was in Judge Belvin Perry’s courtroom at the time in Florida. He was a spectator during the trial of Casey Anthony who was charged with the murder of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee Marie Anthony. His gesture was caught on camera. The proceedings were stopped and Matt was called before the judge. After determining that Matt could read the posted sign on the door of the courtroom that prohibited any speaking, outbursts and gestures once in the courtroom, Judge Perry found Matt in contempt of court and sent him to jail for six days. The message here? Think before you speak or act.

    Natalie Jacobs

    This post was written by Natalie Jacobs. Prior to joining the AsktheJudge.info team, Natalie worked as a criminal attorney for over five years. She also has worked with Innocence Projects as well as Girls on the Run of Northern Arizona, a character development program for girls in 3rd through 8th grade. When she's not reading and writing about youth justice issues, she thinks about becoming a farmer, chef, world traveler, Bikram master, dogwalker and 80’s film reviewer.

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    3 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Mary Schlanger
      Sun, 19 Jun 2011 at 04:37

      This has happened to one of my friends before. She and i were walking home to her house from school one afternoon, she explained to me that there was a cop with a doll in it and she ran up to the patrol car and flipped off the tinted window. Well the window rolled down and the police officer asked what she thought she was doing. She replied that she had no idea and apologized, he gave her a warning and let her go home. Now every time she sees a cop she blushes and gets embarrassed. It will be nice for her to know that she is not the only one who made the same sort of mistake.
      Wow, that must have been quite a shock for your friend!

    • Richard Lewis
      Thu, 18 Aug 2011 at 07:25

      Flipping of a cop – or anyone – is like “Sticks and Stones.” The self expressions whether with words or gestures to or from anyone is not a cause to react. It isn’t like waving a gun or even the threat of “Taking 2nd Amendment Remedies” carries as a true threat. Flipping someone off is just a moment of displeasure. Should a person be arrested for saying something that may offend? If you think Flipping off someone is so offensive that they should go to jail

    • Divorce Lawyers Tulsa
      Wed, 31 Aug 2011 at 07:43

      Yep – you sure can.
      Speaking generally, you can be arrested for anything the officer decides is a violation of the law. Whether you have a defense is the real question. Freedom of expression is a cherished right that allows for positive as well as negative behavior. It is speech of the minority that calls for protection and tolerance.

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