A 19-year old Tennessee man is arrested after he allegedly yelled “pigs” at a group of cops. According to officers, William Reece was riding in a Honda Accord travelling, at most, 40 miles an hour when he cracked open the rear passenger door to yell at the officers.
A Newport Police Department patrolman jumped into his car and caught up with the Honda and arrested Reece for disorderly conduct “due to creating a hazardous condition that served no legitimate purpose.” When Reece yelled his slur at the cops, they were on the side of the road making a traffic stop, which had nothing to do with Reece.
The arrest report makes clear that drugs and alcohol were not involved with Reece’s arrest. Reece posted $500 bond the same day, but the report does not mention whether or not Reece agrees with the alleged charges, in particular, whether he rolled down his window or cracked open the door.
The question is: were William Reece’s First Amendment rights violated when he was arrested for the alleged incident?
The difference may be one of choices; the choice that Reece allegedly made may be his undoing.
According to Vanderbilt law professor, Christopher Slobogin, “If the arrest had occurred for shouting through an open window, it probably would have been unconstitutional.” But, apparently opening the door of a moving vehicle is against the law, and that changes things.
Slobogin cites the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Whren v. United States, which states: “even if there is good reason to believe the real reason an individual is arrested is because of an exercise of First Amendment rights or animus toward the arrestee, probable cause for a traffic violation immunizes the arrest from constitutional challenge.”
So, if Reece really did open his door to yell the epitaph, then his arrest is likely based upon his conduct rather than his speech.
What do you think? Should charges against William Reece be dropped?