Ever find yourself driving a bit too fast when all of a sudden a driver in the opposite lane flashes their lights at you? Not many people consider this to be a type of speech, but most know exactly what the other driver is telling us: “slow down, police ahead.”
Michael Elli, of Ellisville, Missouri conveyed the same message by flashing his vehicle’s lights at oncoming traffic to warn of a speed trap ahead. Accused of violating an ordinance that restricted flashing lights, Ellis was issued a citation with a stiff $1,000.00 fine. Upon informing the court that he planned to plead not guilty to the violation, the municipal judge “became agitated and asked the plaintiff if he had ever heard of ‘obstruction of justice.’ ”
The ACLU, upon catching wind of what was going on, sued on behalf of Elli. The case was brought before U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey who wrote in his opinion: “Even assuming, arguendo, that plaintiff or another driver is communicating a message that one should slow down because a speed trap is ahead and discovery or apprehension is impending, that conduct is not illegal . . . ”
Another victory for free speech? Or an impediment to justice? You decide.