If I Flip Off a Cop, Can I Get Arrested?

By David Hammond

Do you sometimes have the urge to flip off a cop? If so, you are not alone. There are many examples of people who have flipped off a cop and paid the price. However, many of those individuals successfully filed lawsuits to protect their constitutional rights. While “giving the finger” to a cop in New York may not be a crime, it can result in an arrest that you must fight. If you are arrested, exercise your right to remain silent and contact a New York criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Court Rulings Regarding Hand Gestures Given to Police Officers

An officer pulled a woman over for speeding in Michigan, but the officer was merciful when he issued the ticket. The driver flipped the officer off when driving away. The officer then pulled the woman over a second time and issued a ticket for the maximum penalty for her traffic violation.

The woman filed a lawsuit claiming the officer violated her constitutional rights. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled the second stop was unjustified because the driver had not broken any laws and “at most was exercising her free speech rights.”  Judge Sutton specifically stated in the opinion that a lack of gratitude or fits of rudeness might break the Golden Rule, but that does not make it illegal.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth District also ruled in favor of a young girl who had “extended both middle fingers” toward police officers when she was eleven. She was arrested and sued for violation of her constitutional rights, among other allegations. The judge stated in part that her “gesture was crude, not criminal.”

In another case appealed from New York to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, a passenger in a vehicle was arrested on several charges after “giving the finger” to an officer as the car passed the officer’s vehicle. The judge noted that the “ancient gesture of insult is not the basis for a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity.” The court reversed and remanded the case to the lower court.

The above cases are just a few of the lawsuits brought around the country by individuals who have been arrested or suffered other consequences for “giving the finger” to a law enforcement officer.

It May Be Considered Freedom of Speech, But It is Not Recommended

While courts have ruled that your constitutional rights extend to flipping off a cop, that does not mean it is a good idea. You might eventually have the charges filed against you dismissed because the charges were not based on probable cause or a violation of the law. You might even win a lawsuit against the officers and other parties for violating your constitutional rights. However, before you are vindicated, you will deal with the cost, inconvenience, and other negative consequences of being arrested. A lawsuit may take years to resolve, and you are not guaranteed a specific outcome.

It is best to be smart when you interact with law enforcement officers. You have the right and freedom to express yourself, but the rude gesture could snowball into criminal charges that may not be able to be dismissed.

Contact a New York Criminal Defense Attorney for Help

Officer misconduct is a serious issue. If you believe your rights were violated or your criminal charges are in retaliation for another matter, you need an experienced Syracuse, NY criminal defense attorney to help you fight for justice.  You have the right to legal counsel. It is always a wise idea to exercise that right whenever you are facing criminal charges. Contact one of our New York criminal defense attorneys today.

About the Author
David is a former military prosecutor and defense lawyer with over a decade of experience fighting for service members and their families. He served nine years and two combat tours as an active duty US Army officer, then joined the Reserves and settled down in Syracuse to be near family. Now representing people across Central New York charged with serious felonies, misdemeanors, DWIs, and traffic offenses, he puts the same level of commitment into his civilian law practice. If you have any questions regarding this article, you can contact David here.