As insulting as it may be universally, a police officer cannot pull you over or arrest you simply for hurt feelings or poor manners, ruled a federal appeal court Thursday. According to a second circuit court of appeals decision on January 3, 2013, in a 14 page opinion the “ancient gesture of insult is not the basis for reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity.”
The case in question stems from a May 2006 incident where John Swartz and his wife Judy Mayton-Swartz sued two police officers who arrested Mr. Swartz after flipping the bird to an officer using radar at an intersection in St. Johnsville, N.Y. Later charged with disorderly conduct, the charges were dismissed on New York’s “speedy trial” grounds.
The officer who stopped Swartz, Richard Insogna, claimed the couple was pulled over because the couple were “trying to get my attention for some reason.” The appeals court didn’t accept that reasoning and ruled that the “nearly universal recognition that this gesture is an insult deprives such an an interpretation of reasonableness.”
Flipping the bird, or sticking out the middle finger, dates to ancient Greece and was adopted by the Romans as digitus impudicus – the impudent finger.
The three judge panel who made the final ruling in the case state “The pursuit of criminal sanctions for the use of the middle finger infringes on First Amendment rights, violates the fundamental principles of criminal justice, wastes valuable judicial resources, an defies any good sense.”
No trial date has been set in the unlawful-arrest case stemming from the original incident.