If You Give the Police the Finger How Long in Jail Will You Linger?

If You Give the Police the Finger How Long in Jail Will You Linger? 

In January 2013, the police arrested a man in St. Johnsville New York for disorderly conduct, after he flipped off an officer.  After the man’s arrest, the criminal charges were dismissed and he sued the police.  Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit allowed the man’s lawsuit against the police to survive, ruling that the “ancient gesture of insult is not the basis for a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or impending criminal activity.”

While free speech is one of our most cherished liberties, free speech is subject to court interpretation.  As a result, time after time courts have had to consider the question:  “What are the limits of free speech?”  The answer, even for an experienced criminal lawyer, is not an easy one.  In general, Courts have identified three types of free speech, each protected at a different level:


  1. Pure speech:  is the verbal expression of thoughts and opinions before a voluntary audience and has received strong protection from courts.

  2. Speech-plus:  involves actions, such as demonstrating or protesting, as well as words and is not generally protected as strictly as is pure speech.

  3. Symbolic speech:  often involves no speech at all, but rather involves symbols or gestures that courts have judged to be forms of free expression, such as flipping off an officer.  Symbolic speech is always controversial and courts have sometimes held it to be beyond the limits of free speech.


So, can you safely flip off a cop without going to jail?  The answer is probably not.  In truth, the police will not appreciate a challenge to their authority and will likely arrest you.  The most common charges in this situation will likely be Disorderly Conduct or Obstruction of Governmental Administration.  In addition, if the police arrest and search you or your vehicle and find evidence of a different crime like possession of drugs, possession of marijuana, or possession of a weapon, you will be arrested and charged with those additional crimes.

 If you get arrested for exercising you free speech rights call Weisberg & Zukher, PLLC. at 315-701-2939 or send us an e-mail and tell us about your case at bestsyracuselawyer.com.  Your initial consultation is always free.  Our experienced attorneys will help you by vigorously defending your case under the guiding principles of Franklin Roosevelt:  “We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”

Call Weisberg & Zukher, PLLC. at 315-701-2939 for a free consultation or send us an e-mail to tell us about your case at bestsyracuselawyer.com.

See related articles:

What are my rights if I am stopped, searched, or arrested by police?

How do I remove a criminal charge from my record?

What you should know about Probable Cause

What is Harassment?

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