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