Better scratch “say you’re a cop” off the list of ways to get out of speeding tickets.
A federal appeals court has ruled that telling a cop who’s pulled you over that you’re a cop too is not protected speech under the First Amendment.
Wired.com says it’s the first case of its kind since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law that forbid falsely claiming to have won military medals or served in the Armed Forces.
The appeals court upheld a Virginia law prohibiting people from claiming to be police officers, ruling in the case of Douglas Chappell, who tried to get out of a speeding ticket in October 2009 by telling the police officer that he was a cop, too.
The judge who wrote the decision let him have it:
Chappell hypothesizes the rights of third parties, arguing that the statute is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it “criminalizes the behavior of adults who attend costume parties dressed as a police officer, children playing cops and robbers, and actors portraying law enforcement officials.”
It is telling that these are the only hypotheticals appellant can conjure up. Of course, it is ludicrous to suggest that costumed party-goers, children, and actors will be prosecuted for pretending to be police officers. Despite acknowledging that a number of states “have impersonation statutes like that of Virginia,” Chappell does not point to a single case — in Virginia or elsewhere — where such a statute has been construed to cover his posited hypotheticals. We decline to facially invalidate § 18.2-174 just because Chappell can conceive of far-fetched applications involving innocent behavior.
The judge also rejected the driver’s claim that the Supreme Court’s striking down of the Stolen Valor Act opened the door to letting him go free…
Chappell did not make the false claim of being a police officer as mere “bar stool braggadocio,” but rather for the material purpose of avoiding a speeding ticket. Impersonation with this latter purpose bears a closer kinship to the kind of identity theft that a state can surely proscribe consistent with the First Amendment. For “[w]here false claims are made to effect a fraud or secure moneys or other valuable considerations, . . . it is well established that the Government may restrict speech without affronting the First Amendment.”
But a dissenting judge said Chappell has the right to say he was a cop in some circumstances…
Chappell made no claim to be on-duty as a police officer, speeding for some legitimate purpose, but only claimed that he was employed as a police officer. In doing so, he was not acting as a police officer or assuming any of the “functions, powers, duties and privileges” of being an officer, but simply stating a false fact about his employment.
… this statute criminalizes, contrary to fact, feigning being an officer. This aspect of the statute is undeniably broad. It covers not only someone asserting that he is a police officer in the hopes of avoiding a ticket, but also, among other things: children playing cops and robbers on the front lawn; trainees at a police academy role-playing; and
actors in plays in which peace officers are characters. Indeed, it would have covered Chappell, even if he had not attempted to avoid a ticket but instead expressed his remorse for violating a traffic law, stating, “I am a police officer and should have known better.” Regardless of whether strict or intermediate scrutiny applies, I believe that this statute reaches a substantial number of impermissible applications and is thus
For the record, it’s a misdemeanor in Minnesota to falsely claim to be a police officer.