“The citation was clearly given to punish the Defendant for that expression.”
A truck driver traveling through White City, Ore. last year was pulled over for something millions of motorists have done without thinking. As he passed a deputy on the side of the road, he quickly flashed his lights as a courtesy to an oncoming delivery driver.
When another deputy witnessed the display, he contacted the first officer, who stopped Chris Hill and issued him a $260 citation for improper headlight use.
Upset over what he considered an irrational charge and unwilling to stand by as his insurance rate spiked due to the ticket, Hill decided to fight the case in court. At first, he maintained the approaching UPS driver was a neighbor, and that the headlight flash was merely a greeting.
Hill told the deputy that “his partner didn’t know why I was flashing my lights.”
Upon further research, however, Hill found out such actions are not prohibited by law. He also recalled a similar case in which a federal judge prohibited the issuance of citations regarding drivers warning each other of impending speed traps.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll throw that in there too,’” he reasoned, prior to acting as his own lawyer in court.
Though he ultimately dropped the defense that he knew the other driver, Hill stuck to an argument based on freedom of speech and the fact that there is no law against flashing one’s headlights on the road. Jackson County Court Judge Joseph Carter agreed.
“The citation was clearly given to punish the Defendant for that expression,” he wrote in his decision in Hill’s favor. “The government certainly can and should enforce the traffic laws for the safety of all drivers on the road. However, the government cannot enforce the traffic laws, or any other laws, to punish drivers for their expressive conduct.”
As federal agents come under attack in Nevada for surrounding a family’s ranch and assaulting protesters, it is clear to many that the First Amendment is taking a beating in today’s America. Fortunately, a few officials – including Judge Hill – are not only capable of identifying these abuses, but acting to protect the public from them.