Flipping the Bird at Police: Is it Protected Free Speech or Grounds for Legal Trouble in Indiana
If you raise your middle finger at a police officer in Indiana, can you get into legal trouble?
Can You Get Into Legal Trouble for Flipping the Bird at Police?
Someone asked me this the other day, and my immediate response was to regurgitate something that I heard a long time ago - "it's protected under the First Amendment," but then I started to wonder if what I heard all those years ago was accurate.
Does Your Middle Finger Fall Under "Free Speech?"
After doing one of my classic ADHD deep dives into the internet, I came across an article from 2018 about an Indiana man named Mark May who received a ticket for "provocation" from an Indiana State Police Trooper. The trooper had allegedly sped by, cutting the man off before pulling over another motorist. As May passed by he gave the trooper a single-digit salute. After the trooper finished his initial traffic stop with the other motorist, the article says he then proceeded to stop May and write him a ticket for "provocation."
May's lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the use of his middle finger was classified as free speech and that it was a protected right under the First Amendment.
The Indiana Man Fought the Law
May ultimately went to court to fight the ticket for "provocation." Despite his attorney's argument that the finger incident was protected under the First Amendment, and that, according to the article, the trooper admitted in court to only pulling May over because of the gesture, May was convicted at the trial in the Terre Haute City Court.
May was dissatisfied with the court's ruling and thanks to Indiana law, he was able to make an appeal to the Vigo County Superior Court. The Superior Court sided with the Indiana man and dismissed the conviction. The charges were dismissed after the prosecutor failed to refile the case.
Should You Wave Your Middle Finger at the Police?
Look. I am pretty free when it comes to the use of my middle finger, and the two words that generally go along with it. I'm just being honest. Someone cuts me off in traffic? There's a high probability that they will see my middle finger in their rearview mirror. If my partner makes a (genuinely funny) joke at my expense, I'm probably throwing up a middle finger at him - with a smile on my face, of course...
My point is, I am pretty liberal with the use of that finger, but legal, or not, I just don't think I will be flipping the bird to any of our members of law enforcement any time soon. I don't think that momentary self-expression would be worth any kind of headache that might result.
[Source: Washington Post]