Judge: Flashing Lights To Warn Other Drivers Is Protected Free Speech

We can only hope this judge’s decision will affect all the states in the union so that police can no longer persecute people for helping out their fellow drivers.

Back in November 2012, a man who had not had a moving violation in 35 years, Michael Elli, was pulled over and ticketed. He was caught flashing his headlights to warn oncoming drivers that they were heading into a police radar trap. The judge told him the typical fine for such an “offense” was a thousand dollars.

Elli did not give up and comply with the penalty. He fought in court. The City of Ellisville eventually dropped the case. Elli kept fighting.

According to the local Fox station:

“If you’re at the gas station on the corner and someone says ‘hey be careful over there, there’s a speed trap’, that’s protected speech.  You can’t be ticketed for that.  This is no different,” said Tony Rothert, an attorney for the American Civil Liberty Union.

[…]

“In our view that’s speech that’s protected by the First Amendment and it’s also good for the public because it tells people to slow down, to use caution.  That’s never a bad thing,” Rothert said.

George Restovich, an attorney for the City of Ellisville, said the ruling was a moot point for Ellisville Police.

“They specifically took action by way of the chief of police to address this; to say that we will not arrest individuals, we won’t even stop individuals and we certainly won’t prosecute individual. I believe there were maybe 5 tickets that were issued in a similar fashion in the past decade,” Restovich said.

Rothert said he’d heard from people across the country about this case and Autrey’s ruling stood as the prevailing law of the land.

Elli did the right thing. Simply allowing the police to drop the charge and promise to stop punishing people for flashing their headlights would not have been enough. People are getting prosecuted for the same “offense” all across the country. The Ellisville police force’s change in policy would have done nothing to protect others. By pursuing the case, Elli got a judge to make a ruling which can now be used as precedent.

It doesn’t comfort me at all that the police “only” issued five of those tickets in the last decade. A thousand dollars would be a huge financial blow to many households.

I am grateful that Elli never gave up.