Whenever I find a story that involves a thorny issue of right vs wrong, I like to see what readers think.
Indeed, this has become a semi-regular feature of this blog. I’ve cited some tough cases in previous posts, dealing with difficult topics such as vigilante justice, brutal tax collection tactics, child molestation, Sharia law, healthcare, incest, jury nullification, and vigilante justice (again).
Today’s episode of “You Be the Judge” features a legal case in Florida involving whether motorists can be ticketed for warning other drivers about speed traps.
When the Florida Highway Patrol pulls someone over on the highway, it’s usually because they were speeding. But Eric Campbell was pulled over and ticketed while he was driving the speed limit. Campbell says, “I was coming up the Veterans Expressway and I notice two Florida Highway Patrol Cars sitting on the side of the road in the median, with lights off.” Campbell says he did what he always does: flashed his lights on and off to warn drivers coming from the other direction that there was speed trap ahead. According to Campbell, 60 seconds after passing the trooper, “They were on my tail and they pulled me over.” Campbell says the FHP trooper wrote him a ticket for improper flashing of high beams. Campbell says the trooper told him what he had done was illegal. But later Campbell learned that is not the case. He filed a class action suit which says “Florida Statue 316.2397” — under which Campbell was cited — “does not prohibit the flashing of headlights as a means of communications, nor does it in any way reference flashing headlights or the use of high beams.” …Since 2005, FHP records show more than 10,429 drivers have been cited under the statute. …Campbell says FHP had no right to ticket him or anyone under the current law and he adds the agency is not being honest when it says it doesn’t write tickets to increase revenue or punish people, but rather to get the motorist to slow down on the highway. If that were true, Campbell says the FHP should be delighted with him, because drivers did slow down before troopers could give them a ticket.
I despise the use of speed traps, particularly since they always seem to be set up in places with inappropriately low speed limits, so it won’t surprise you that my gut instinct is to side with the motorists. And since there apparently isn’t any law in Florida against flashing your high beams, this is a slam-dunk issue.
But let’s take this to the next level: Should there be a law against flashing high beams?
Presumably not, but I confess this example raises broader issues. Let’s say the cops are doing something completely legitimate, such as searching for a murderer. I assume all of us would view it as wrong for an otherwise innocent person to warn the murderer the cops were about to search a certain area.
In cases like that, an obstruction-of-justice charge (or maybe aiding-and-abetting, I’m not a lawyer, so I’m guessing) seems appropriate. But where do you draw the line? If you know your friend is smoking pot, should you be liable for not ratting him out? Hopefully not, but what if your friend is a rapist? In that case, I hope we would all agree it would be right to inform the cops. But keep in mind the real issue is whether you should be subject to arrest if you don’t.
These are hard issues, and they underscore the importance of having laws that are just. It’s much easier to support strong enforcement if we know the government isn’t using the law to generate revenue or harass people engaged in victimless behavior.