That ruling came just 24 hours ago from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2d Circuit. According to the decision, in 2006, John Swartz flipped off a police officer who was using a radar to catch speeders at an intersection in St. Johnsville, N.Y. Swartz, evidently very displeased about the speed trap, flipped off the officer -- and wanted to make sure the officer saw the gesture by "reaching his right arm outside the passenger side window and extending his middle finger over the car’s roof." Swartz was a passenger in the vehicle, which was not speeding or committing any other traffic violation.
Court documents show that the offended officer pursued Swartz to his home, ordered him and his wife, the driver, back into the vehicle, and called for back-up. Swartz was handcuffed, arrested, driven to the police station and formally charged for disorderly conduct. Swartz retained an attorney and fought the criminal charge for several years until it was dismissed for lack of prosecution. Swartz then sued the police for civil rights violations and malicious prosecution, and pursued the lawsuit to the federal Court of Appeals.
When deciding the case, the Court first noted that "giving the finger" is an insult known for centuries, and traced the origins of the gesture back to ancient Greece. The Court then determined that:
This ancient gesture of insult [giving the finger] is not the basis for a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity.
It took 14 more pages, but the Court ultimately ruled that the arresting officers did not have the authority to pull over, detain, handcuff or arrest Swartz on disorderly conduct grounds merely because he flipped off the officer. The Court then reinstated Swartz's malicious prosecution claim against the arresting officers and sent the civil rights violations aspects of the case back to the lower court for trial.
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