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Circuit court: Flipping off cops protected by the First Amendment


Interesting lawsuit

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Officer Matthew Wayne Minard pulled over Debra Lee Cruise-Guylas of Taylor, Michigan, and gave her a ticket for a nonmoving violation even though she was reportedly speeding.

Now she's suing because she believes the officer violated her constitutional rights, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed.

Wait, what happened in between?

After Minard gave Cruise-Guylas her ticket, he headed back to his cruiser. Clearly miffed, Cruise-Guylas stuck up her middle finger at the officer as she left the scene.

Angered, Minard turned on his lights and siren, and stopped her a second time. He also reportedly hit her vehicle with his, and then went on to change her original ticket to a moving violation.

This infuriated Cruise-Guylas, and she filed a lawsuit against Minard for the incident, which occurred in June 2017.

The plaintiff told The Washington Post that she was angry about the initial ticket because she felt she was caught in a "speed trap" notorious to other drivers.

"I know this is a bunch of B.S.," she told the outlet, and said that when she pulled off, she gave him a clear view of her middle finger.

At the lower court, Minard filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that even if he violated Cruise-Guylas' constitutional rights, they were not "clearly established" constitutional rights. A private citizen cannot maintain a lawsuit for damages against a government agent unless they can establish that the rights that were allegedly violated were "clearly established." The district court disagreed, and denied his motion to dismiss.

What was the court ruling?

On appeal, Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that the officer's second stop — apparently because she stuck up her middle finger at Minard — lacked probable cause. Sutton said that there was no justification for the officer to have pulled Cruise-Guylas over the second time, because giving someone the middle finger isn't a crime.

The court ruled that by pulling Cruise-Guylas over a second time, Minard violated her Fourth Amendment rights, which protect citizens against unreasonable seizure.

Also, Sutton ruled that Minard violated her First Amendment rights, because the "all too familiar gesture," he wrote, is "protected by the First Amendment."

"Fits of rudeness or lack of gratitude may violate the Golden Rule," Sutton wrote. "But that doesn't make them illegal or for that matter punishable or for that matter grounds for a seizure."

What else?

According to the Post, the case will go back to the U.S. District Court for further proceedings.

Cruise-Gulyas is seeking unspecified damages in her suit.

You can read the entire ruling here.

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