Federal Appeals Court: San Francisco Limo Driver Had Right to Free Speech in Regards to Officer Battery Charges (CA Penal Code 243(b))

In 2008, police officer (name withheld for privacy) gave San Franciscan limo driver (name withheld for privacy) a parking ticket.  However, this was no ordinary exchange.  It seems that both men were driving their respective vehicles when they entered into an argument.  The limo driver pulled over to continue their discussion and, when he did, the officer gave him a ticket for being double-parked.  As you can imagine, the driver wasn’t pleased with this outcome as he was the cause of his having been double-parked in the first place.  He hurled a few insults at the officer, but then the two parted ways.  Just a short while later, the limo driver visited a local fast food restaurant where, by a stroke of fate, the officer was already eating.  The dispute again heated up when the officer followed the driver out of the eatery and sprayed him with pepper spray. The driver responded by spitting at the officer, who then punched the driver in the head.  The driver was originally arrested on battery charges (CA Penal Code 243(b)). Yet, these circumstances have been re-evaluated by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pursuant to the driver’s lawsuit against the officer.

The main issue in this case has been the question as to whether or not the driver utterances counted as threatening enough to be considered constitutionally protected or not.  As the federal appeals court has determined, the driver was merely exercising his right to free speech when he disparaged the officer.  U.S. Judge Marilyn Hall Patel stated that law enforcement officials ought to be prepared to put up with a certain amount of “criticism, profane and otherwise.”  It does not, however, mean that an officer of the law can attack a citizen.