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Leah R. Thomas Jan. 3, 2013

The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision today addressed a male defendant’s extending his middle finger at a police officer running radar as the vehicle he was a passenger in drove past in New York. The officer subsequently pulled the vehicle over stating that he was “concerned for the female driver”. The Court didn’t buy that explanation as reasonable suspicion to stop the car either, stating:

Perhaps there is a police officer somewhere who would interpret an automobile passenger’s giving him the finger as a signal of distress, creating a suspicion that something occurring in the automobile warranted investigation. And perhaps that interpretation is what prompted [the officer] to act, as he claims. But the nearly universal recognition that this gesture is an insult deprives such an interpretation of reasonableness. 8.

This tells us two things: 1) our First Amendment right to freedom of speech means that citizens can insult the police and it is not a basis to be stopped or arrested; and 2) that some police officers will apparently say just about anything  to justify their actions when challenged. The second point is almost more interesting than the first. We challenge police on the witness stand routinely, and often convince juries that certain officers simply aren’t telling the truth in our cases. They sometimes come up with ridiculous explanations to justify their actions – and this case is an example of that. Really, officer? Really? You saw him give you the finger and thought that someone needed your help? C’mon. Read the opinion for yourself here.