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A judge says police are violating free speech when they ticket motorists who warn of radar traps

6:27 PM, May 24, 2012   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- A Seminole County Circuit Court Judge has decided that flashing your high beams to warn other drivers of a speed trap is protected free speech under the First Amendment. But it's not the law of the land...yet.

Judge Alan Dickey decided that the state law regarding flashing lights; Florida Statute 316.2397(7) was being misinterpreted by the police agencies issuing the tickets.  He ruled that you and I have the right of free speech to tell oncoming traffic to slow down to avoid getting a speeding ticket. Clearly, it won't make some police officers happy but it will make Eric Campbell happy.

Back in August 2011, Campbell was ticketed when he flashed his lights to warn oncoming traffic there was a speed trap ahead. Campbell was told by the Florida Highway Patrol officer who pulled him over that it was illegal.

"The police officer saw me blinking and he was upset. You could tell he was irritated, it was a personal affront.  He didn't like the fact someone was rating him out," said Campbell.

Campbell decided to fight the ticket and discovered there was a court order dating back to 2005 stating state law doesn't prohibit flashing of vehicle headlights but, instead, the law prohibits a flashing light on your vehicle without a permit. When Campbell saw that, he filed a class action suit.

 "I believe this situation is an abuse of power taking a statue that says one thing and making it do whatever you want," said Campbell's attorney Marc Jones.  

Jones maintained the law prohibits having flashing lights on your car, not the act of flashing your lights. The legislature agreed and clarified the law this past session. Jones convinced Seminole County Circuit Court Judge Dickey that flashing lights is an expression of free speech.  

Oviedo Police Lt. Mike Beavers said that's not the case and that police departments are not inhibiting free speech. 

"If people want to stand on the side of the road with a sign that the police are running radar ahead, they have every right to do so."

While the new law specifically prohibits troopers and other law enforcement agencies from ticketing motorists who merely flash their lights, the FHP has found some wiggle room. They have issued tickets to drivers who warn others about upcoming speed traps by maintaining they are illegally turning on their 'high beams' with approaching traffic coming the other way.

Lt. Beavers said that until we get some kind of directive from the court Oviedo cops will enforce the statue the way they have been.  Oddly enough, Oviedo is in Seminole County where Judge Dickey presides but Lt. Beavers doesn't believe ticketing people for flashing their lights is violating the first amendment.

Next, Attorney Jones plans to take the ruling and seek a statewide injunction to insure that no motorist is ever cited again for flashing their lights to warn of a speed trap.

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