FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

Dynamic Plaques - FVT Plaques
FVT Plaques is introducing new dynamic plaques to recognize police and sheriff's...

Security Policy and the Cloud

Ask The Expert

Mark Rivera

FBI-CJIS Security Policy Compliance Officer

Mark Rivera, Customer Retention Manager and CJIS Security Compliance Officer with Vigilant Solutions, served for sixteen years with the Maryland State Police, retiring at the rank of First Sergeant with thirteen of those years at the supervisory and command level. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Management from The Johns Hopkins University and Secret clearance through the FBI, Baltimore.

Top News

Court: Flipping Off Cops Is Constitutional

January 04, 2013  | 

A civilian flipping off a police officer can't be cause for a vehicle stop or arrest, a federal appellate court has ruled.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that the "ancient gesture of insult is not the basis for a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity."

The ruling conforms to existing legal precedent, said Devallis Rutledge, POLICE's legal expert.

"You can contact the person," Rutledge said. "You cannot detain the person. It doesn't provide grounds for arrest. It's just not criminal."

In the most recent case, John Swartz and his wife Judy Mayton-Swartz had sued two St. Johnsville (N.Y.) Police officers who arrested Swartz in May 2006 after he flipped off an officer who was using a radar device at an intersection. Swartz was later charged with a violation of New York's disorderly conduct statute, but the charges were dismissed, reports the Huffington Post.

Richard Insogna, the officer who stopped Swartz and his wife when they arrived at their destination, claimed he pulled the couple over because he believed Swartz was "trying to get my attention for some reason."

Prior courts have ruled that contempt of cop is protected First Amendment speech. The U.S. Supreme Court in City of Houston v. Hill (1987) ruled that the First Amendment "protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers." 

The 9th Circuit court confirmed this ruling in 1990's Duran v. the City of Douglas, Arizona.

By Paul Clinton

Comments (17)

Displaying 1 - 17 of 17

Tom Ret @ 1/5/2013 4:31 PM

I bet flipping off the judge will not be considered freedom of speech.

Brian @ 1/7/2013 4:58 PM

Actually, after the ruling in the original case the attorney flipped off the judge. It was a great picture.

Jack Betz @ 1/7/2013 5:01 PM

Guys people some people do not like us and will say things we do not like to hear. Take some comfort that we have been called worse by better. And their is nothing I have heard that says you can't follow some people for a few miles.

[email protected] retired @ 1/7/2013 7:07 PM

I'll bet if you cursed your chief and flipped him off it wouldn't be viewed as protected free speech.

Dennis CHP (retried) @ 1/7/2013 8:25 PM

The traffic officer should have been a bit more forthright with the court, which can irrate Judges and everyone else in the courtroom. It was a very clear why the stop was made and it reflects badly on the officer when he made up the story. And of course, if the officer is that sensitive to people who flip him off, he needs to fiind a different occupation. Challenging an officer or touching an officer is completely different, and rightly so.

DaveUS5566D1 @ 1/8/2013 12:28 AM

Wave and smile at them - really pisses them off (or just ignore it) - becasue they are expecting you to react the other way...and they won!

BW @ 1/8/2013 3:05 AM

If you don't have thick skin, the job ain't for you.

Frank @ 1/8/2013 4:56 AM

Respect is long gone for the common person let alone a LEO! But I would remember that tag.

TERRY F. ZECH @ 1/8/2013 5:24 AM

I have seen judges jail suspects who told them to Foff along with the finger gesture. Especially 36th district court Detroit.

Danno @ 1/8/2013 5:35 AM

Its unfortunate that we now live in a society, where illegal drugs are becoming legal, praying in our schools is illegal, and disrespecting authority is a constitutional right. Where killing babies (abortion) is a constitutional right, and killing murders (capital punishment) is cruel and unusual. Morality is frowned upon and it saddens me to think of what my children will have to deal with in the future.

Marshal @ 1/8/2013 1:13 PM

Well some states define the proper hand signals while driving so if someone sticks their hand out the window and gives a signal not described that is illegal and if they still argue that point then if it is straight out indicating a left turn and they don't turn or if the elbow is bent indicating a right turn and they don't turn then that would still be improper signaling. But if it is kept in the car not much can be done about that but there always could be another reason for a stop that is legal.

Capt David-Ret LA County @ 1/8/2013 3:34 PM

Anyone who ever flipped me off got arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. I figured they must have been so to give me the finger..

Tornado Jim @ 2/19/2014 10:08 AM

One very hot July afternoon I was pulled over by a Pennsylvania State Hoopie. As a truck driver, I was minding my own business driving down a back country road when I saw the cop approaching in my direction. I waved 'hello' to him as he passed and minutes later he pulled me over, searched the truck, asked for documents not normally carried on board. After a great deal of harassment he finally, angrily, asked me who I thought I was flipping him off. I told him I had waved at him and he said it looked to him like I was throwing him the finger. An hour later I was free to go. Really? If you're a cop and reading this and would be willing to go ballistic because someone 'flipped' you off please do the citizenry a favor. Take your service revolver, walk into your bathroom, lock the door, crawl into the bathtub, put the gun to your head and pull the trigger. There, everyone's problems are solved.

John Doe @ 4/18/2014 12:16 AM

Capt David-Ret LA County
You sound like a fucking scumbag with a small man inferiority complex. Hurr durr I have a gun and a shiny badge. Hur dur. You have to do what I say! Fuck off you stupid, power-abusing son of a bitch.

Steven @ 4/18/2014 6:54 AM

Capt. Dave. Sounds like a bitch to me. Listen here bitch you aint shit with out your badge and service pistol so keep youre fuckin trap shut. Sounds to me like youre the size of your penis is showing.

mike @ 4/18/2014 9:23 AM

Spoken like a true crooked piece of shit from LA county you boys always have been some of the slimiest and most worthless scrum to scour the earth. Fuck you from the bottom of my heart, cock sucker.

Michael Dennis @ 12/9/2015 7:00 PM

Of course it is protected activity. There is no obligation to be polite to police or to anyone else.

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent News

Video: Fallen Phoenix Officer Remembered as "Larger than Life"
A Phoenix police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty was remembered...
Video: Civilians Help Texas Officer Arrest Aggressive Suspect
An Arlington, TX, police officer is feeling grateful for his training and for some alert...
Video: Officer Wounded, Suspect Killed in Suburban Chicago Shootout
A police officer was wounded and a suspected shoplifter was killed in a shooting outside a...
Search for Kidnapped California Teen Intensifies After Suspect Killed in Shootout with Deputies
The man wanted on suspicion of kidnapping a 15-year-old Bay Area girl was killed Thursday...
Officials Say Officer Shortage May be Causing Spike in Las Vegas Crime
The local sheriff, police union officials and district attorney have various theories...

Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
It's easy! Just fill in the form below and click the red button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.
First Name:
Last Name:
Zip Code:
We respect your privacy. Please let us know if the address provided is your home, as your RANK / AGENCY will not be included on the mailing label.
E-mail Address:

Police Magazine