A man fed up with small town cops issuing tickets to people who warn fellow motorists about upcoming speed traps on Friday asked a federal judge to issue an injunction against the practice. Michael J. Elli filed a class action suit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri claiming the traffic stops in Ellisville amounted to a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.
On November 17, 2012, Elli noticed a speed trap on Kiefer Creek Road around 2:50pm. He flashed his lights at oncoming traffic to ensure they would adjust their speeds to avoid receving a citation. The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri’s legal director, Anthony E. Rothert, is arguing the on Elli’s behalf that this represents expressive conduct that is protected by the Constitution.
“The flashing of headlamps is commonly understood as conveying the message to slow down and proceed with caution,” Rothert explained.
Though Elli was not speeding or violating any other traffic law, he was pulled over by an unidentified police officer and handed a traffic ticket claiming a violation of a city ordinance mentioning the flashing warning signals installed on school buses.
“No reasonable officer would believe that plaintiff had violated Section 375.100,” Rothert argued.
Elli was threatened with a $1000 fine, but he insisted on taking the matter to trial. Charges were dismissed on February 12.
“The practice plaintiff seeks to enjoin violates the constitution in multiple ways,” Rothert wrote in his brief to the court. “First, a police officer stops and temporarily detains an individual in the absence of reasonable suspicion to believe any unlawful activity is afoot. A traffic stop is a seizure. Therefore, Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures is implicated when police conduct traffic stops. Communicating by flashing one’s headlamps violates no law. Thus, effectuating a traffic stop for this lawful communication violates the Fourth Amendment.”
The ACLU argues the case is such a slam dunk that it has met the burden of proof needed for the court to issue an order that prevents Ellisville from stopping other motorists for flashing their headlights. The city has yet to issue a formal response. Source