More on Flipping Off the Cops

In March of last year, we posted a Blog about whether it’s legal to flip off the cops. We discussed a federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that held that flipping off a cop is speech protected by the First Amendment.

Well, now the North Carolina Supreme Court has weighed in on the issue. On Friday, the Court held that a person who flipped off the cops cannot be stopped and pulled over for the alleged crime of Disorderedly Conduct.

The facts of the case reveal that two police officers, in two separate police cars, were pulled over on the side of the road helping a stranded motorist who had run out of gas in freezing temperature weather. The two police officers had their police cars’ overhead blue lights on. As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.

The soon-to-be defendant, Shawn Patrick Ellis, was a front-seat passenger in another car that happened to be driving by. As the defendant’s car drove by the cops, the defendant decided to waive at the officers to get their attention, and once he did, he pointed his middle finger at them. Upon seeing this, one of the officers got in his patrol car and pursed the defendant’s car, pulled it over, and subsequently cited defendant for Obstructing a Police Officer.

Although the trial judge and the North Carolina Court of Appeals believed that there was reasonable suspicion to justify defendant’s car being pulled over, the North Carolina Supreme Court disagreed and held that it was “unable to conclude that there were specific and articulable facts known to Trooper Stevens which would lead a reasonable officer to suspect that defendant was engaged in disorderly conduct.”

In other words, the sole act of flipping off a police officer is not a crime. Rather, as the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held last year, it is protected speech under the First Amendment.

You can read about the case here: https://reason.com/2020/05/01/north-carolina-supreme-court-flipping-off-cop-did-not-justify-traffic-stop/

You can read the decision here: https://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=1&pdf=39340

Although the Nobles & Yanez Law Firm certainly does not encourage you to go flip off the cops, our Law Firm is nevertheless always here to fight for your constitutional rights if you find yourself in a similar situation as Shawn Patrick Ellis did.