Court: Cop can’t stop driver for flipping him off

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was short and to the point in ruling this week that giving the finger to a cop is free speech and you can’t be pulled over for doing so.

“Fits of rudeness or lack of gratitude may violate the Golden Rule. But that doesn’t make them illegal or for that matter punishable or for that matter grounds for a seizure,” Judge Stuart Sutton wrote on behalf of the panel, which ruled in the case of Debra Cruise-Gulyas, who was stopped by officer Matthew Minard in Taylor, Mich., for speeding.

Minard gave Cruise-Gulyas a break, writing her up under a less serious infraction.

Let’s let Judge Sutton tell the story from here…

As she drove away, Cruise-Gulyas repaid Minard’s kindness by raising her middle finger at him. Minard pulled Cruise-Gulyas over a second time, less than 100 yards from where the initial stop occurred, and amended the ticket to a speeding violation.

In his opinion this week, Judge Sutton said the probable cause to pull the woman over ended after she got the first ticket. That makes the case a question of whether making “an all-too-familiar gesture at Minard with her hand and without four of her fingers showing,” as Sutton described it, is an infraction.

It’s crude; it’s not criminal, the judge said in ruling that her lawsuit for violating her rights can go forward.

As alleged, the first stop had ended, a constitutionally significant event, before the officer initiated the second, unjustified stop. The Supreme Court has said that any justification for the first stop ceases when that stop ends.

These facts more closely resemble a prosecutor who tries to revoke a defendant’s deal a few days after everyone has agreed to it or a judge who hauls the defendant back into court a week or two after imposing a sentence based on the defendant’s after-the-fact speech.

Those examples seem more problematic and more in keeping with today’s decision. Minard, in short, clearly had no proper basis for seizing Cruise-Gulyas a second time.

  • Sonny T

    I would think behavior of this kind would violate laws preventing us from interfering with a police officer, but that’s me.

    • How was the officer interfered with? If giving the officer a middle finger is not a crime — and it’s not — by what right does an officer get to stop her?

      The ruling here is that a cop can’t increase your ticket because he doesn’t like something you lawfully did.

      That’s not to say it’s a good idea to give a cop the finger since it’s incredibly easy for a cop to come up with a LAWFUL reason to pull you over.

      • Sonny T

        Yes. It’s a nuanced issue, with unusual circumstances, and that’s why it’s gotten this far. What I’m saying is the judge could have invoked the laws about interfering.

        • Andrew

          How was the officer interfered with?

          • Sonny T

            Conceivably a judge could find this falls under laws against creating a public disturbance, or disturbing the peace..

            You can’t harass a police officer or impede him from doing his job.

          • That is actually inconceivable in the case as described. You read it, right?

            Take Minnesota law on disturbing the peace:

            engages in offensive, obscene, abusive, boisterous, or noisy conduct or in offensive, obscene, or abusive language tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others.

            The question I have is whether a second party — in this case the cop — is the party which is protecged from alarm, anger, or resentment. I’d have a hard time believing so. It could be used to infringe ALL speech merely by creating resentment in someone who doesn’t agree with it.

          • Sonny T

            “It could be used to infringe ALL speech…” Yes. But this being amateur judge day, this one might have gone the other way, without infringing on our rights.

          • How, though?

            It’s interesting to me, btw, that the judge used a fairly recent SCOTUS case in his thinking.


          • Sonny T

            What a party!

            Thanks Bob. I would like to add that, since interpretation of the law is determined by precedent, this case creates a not so subtle danger. Cops have a difficult enough job, and allowing behavior of this kind, which I think could fall under impede laws, that much more difficult.

            I just thought of something else. The police are entitled to be lenient, based upon their interpretation of the suspect’s understanding of what they did wrong. If someone makes clear they do not understand, don’t the cops have the right to revoke that leniency?

          • We should never confuse matters of rights with issues of appropriate behavior. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have any since — and I’ve written so many times — the only power the Constitution has is our willingness to extend it to the most despicable.

          • RBHolb

            Not in this case.

            The cop needed at least reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop her in the first place. The second stop wasn’t done with such suspicion, so he shouldn’t have stopped her again.

          • Sonny T

            Could he simply state it was the same stop? I mean, clearly communication wasn’t broken off.

          • RBHolb

            He amended the ticket, after stopping her again as she was driving off. I would call that an additional stop.

          • Sonny T

            We’re into a technical area, when a stop has ended. I don’t know. I wonder, though, if you yelled, “I was lying about the whole thing!” if the cop couldn’t pull you over.

          • Rob

            If she took off before being given the all clear, that’d be part of the same stop. Hard to see how, once the cop says “Go forth and have a good day, ma’am”, that it could still be argued to be part of the original stop.

          • Andrew

            Quite a stretch to think that the driver did enough to impede the office from doing his job. I think I’ll stick with the judge’s interpretation of the law though, which has more solid reasoning. It’s crude, not criminal.

        • It sounds like you know how he could have. But you haven’t defined on he would he have done that? Which law in particular are you referring to and please explain why the police officer was doing that was interfered with by her digital display.

          • Sonny T

            There’s laws. See my post to Andrew.

        • Laurie K.

          Interference cannot be subjective. The officer had to be physically prohibited from doing his job as a result of the action by the driver in order to call it “interference”.

          • Sonny T

            I believe physically interfering is not the definition. I know you can’t interfere with a cop, including creating a disturbance that impedes him.

          • Laurie K.

            Can we assume you have some specialized training and/or experience in Michigan law then? Because I know for a fact that in Minnesota in order to charge someone with obstruction of legal process, there must be some type of physical action that obstructs.

          • Sonny T


            Not seeing anything in there about it having to be physical. I mean, that would only make sense. You could create any amount of distraction and disturbance, and it wouldn’t have to be physical, to prevent an officer from doing his job.

          • In Michigan law about obstruction, the definitionof “obstruct” is:

            (a) “Obstruct” includes the use or threatened use of physical interference or force or a knowing failure to comply with a lawful command.

          • Jack Ungerleider

            I was just gonna cite that. For anyone else who wants to find the full listing that comes from just google: michigan laws on interfering with a police officer

          • Laurie K.

            The Minnesota Supreme Court has held that Minn. Stat. § 609.50 is “directed solely at physical acts.” State v. Krawsky, 426 N.W.2d 875, 877 (Minn. 1988). In Krawsky, the court rejected an overbreadth challenge to the statute, and in doing so stated that Minn. Stat. § 609.50 is “directed at a particular kind of physical act, namely, physically obstructing or interfering with an officer.” Id. (quotation omitted).

          • Sonny T

            Ya got me beat, counselor.

            What if I fake a heart attack while my friend runs away. Is that legal?

          • Laurie K.

            Actually, yes it is. In State v. Tomlin, the supreme court held that a defendant’s lies to police officers did not constitute obstruction of legal process because the defendant had not physically obstructed or interfered with the officers. 622 N.W.2d 546, 549 (Minn. 2001).

          • Rob

            But if he faked a heart attack in such a way that he intentionally fell across the officer’s path of pursuit…

          • Laurie K.

            How would you show that he intentionally fell into the officer’s path of pursuit? You could try – and I know some prosecutors would try – but without something to show that it was intentional, it would be a hard sell. Also, Sonny’s examples of chasing the cop staying in front of the cop, etc., would most definitely be chargeable – they are physical actions which are clearly directed at the officers.

          • Sonny T

            What if you shout, “Officer stop! I’m the one who did it!” Then, after your buddy gets away, “Ha ha, officer. Just kidding.” That’s legal?

          • Laurie K.

            See above. Lying to the cops does not constitute obstruction. I feel like now you’re just arguing for the sake of arguing.

          • Sonny T

            Not arguing. I don’t disagree. Just asking for clarification. Thanks.

          • I don’t know but if that scenario works, man, that’s a really bad cop.

          • Rob

            I’m with ya – not a hugely compelling fact set, but if prosecutors caught the “heart attack” person out on his/her lie, it seems at least plausible that they would try to tack intent to impede onto it.

          • Sonny T

            I see my issue now. I was thinking the word physical meant touching.

    • BReynolds33

      Seems like a hamstring breaking stretch. If there is a law that makes flipping a middle finger at a cop “interfering with a police officer,” this judge just ruled it to be unconstitutional.

      Since the Constitution still outranks any local law, the argument that it violates some local law is moot.

      • Some cops still think filming a cop is interfering with police.

        That term “interfering with police” serves the same purpose for police as air fresheners in the cars of people of color.

        • Sonny T

          Right. Our protections against arbitrary stops must be at all times aggressively defended.

        • Jim in RF

          Or the cops’ magic friend “disturbing the peace.”

        • Doesn’t it seem sensible to always assume you might be on video? Between smartphones, video capture doorbells, traffic cameras, security cameras, drones, and actual camera cameras, I would not be surprised if I were videoed multiple times in a trip to the grocery store or while walking the doggos. Any cop who’s nervous about video capture is probably not in the habit of behaving professionally…!

  • Barton

    well, this is good news since I was streaming obscenities at a cop this morning (gesturing with both hands and all fingers though), as he decided to do something actually illegal and hosed up the traffic flow for a bit…. And I know he could see me, b/c I could see him smirking at me.

    • jon

      Don’t lean to hard into on the findings in this case… 6th circuit doesn’t include minnesota so it’s not a binding precedent in lower courts here.

      Just saying reserve your obscenities for times when it’s really worth it.

      • Well, there’s the little matter of the Fourth Amendment, so no.

        You have to understand the case here. As flipping the bird is not a crime, the only thing the officer could stop her for was the speeding, for which he’d already stopped her. The crux of the decision is allowing the case to go forward on the constitutional merit because the validity of the stop expired when he gave her the first ticket.

        The cop knows that you can’t pull someone over for the middle finger. That’s why the argument centered on whether he could stop her for speeding.

        You have Fourth Amendment rights until a court rules you don’t; not the other way around.

        By the way, the 6th circuit cited the 10th circuit in this case.

  • Gary F

    I wonder if this person would like a cop to show up at the scene if they get into a serious car crash or maybe they are at a store that is being robbed.

    • Pretty irrelevant. You don’t give up constitutional rights because someday you might need a cop . That’s not how it works.

    • Jim in RF

      Cops need to have thick skins. It’s an important part of the job.

    • BJ

      I would like “a cop” that doesn’t disregard the constitution to show up to a serious car crash or come to a store that is being robbed.

    • Rob

      I think that unless you have a prominent sign in your yard stating that you support the police, the cops should not be obligated to help you at all.

    • Ralphy

      I’d like a cop to show up at a car crash or at a store robbery instead of wasting time and taxpayer money because they were offended by someone doing something rude (but not illegal).

  • Rob

    I wonder if Cruise-Gulyas was also singing the Trashmen’s song, Surfin’ Bird, when the cop came up to her window the second time. “Everybody’s heard that the bird is the word…”

  • Doug

    Bob, why are some blog stories allowed comment and others not?

  • When I did police work on the 80s, I can say with certainty that I never had to issue a ticket to a driver who happened to have MPR playing on the radio. MPR members are such nice people.

    • Pro tip: When you get pulled over, quickly switch radio to MPR.

      • Truth. Also MPR bumper sticker and proof of sustaining membership.

      • Postal Customer

        And put on your Packers hat.

  • JonasGrumby

    I still wouldn’t recommend it.

  • Ralphy

    Never heard that one before.

  • Ralphy

    If you could, please site a source that has actually made that argument (not alleged by a 2A group).

  • Ralphy

    I must admit I’m not a follower of Jesuit publications, and not familiar with this article published in 2013. Nonetheless, my interpretation of their argument in favor of repealing the 2A is not based on the availability of police but rather their concerns regarding the growth of mass shootings.

    Notice they aren’t advocating taking everyone’s guns away, but limiting the ability to acquire them.

    Again, please cite a legitimate gun control organization arguing in favor of the repeal of 2A because we have the police.

  • This little diversion here? This is why I don’t open comments anymore. This one got opened by mistake. And, sure enough, it went off the rails. They either end up in debates about abortions or guns.