The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri had filed a lawsuit on behalf of Michael Elli who flashed his headlights to warn vehicles of a speed trap set up by Ellisville police. An officer saw the flashing lights and pulled Eli over and gave him a ticket for a violation which carried a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted. In California, travelling at an unsafe speed (“speeding”) (VC 22350) carries a similar punishment .
The case was dropped and the city has changed the law and no longer pulls people over for flashing their headlights. Yet, the city of Ellsville still pursued the lawsuit. After a hearing last year, Ellsville officials made the case that flashing headlights could interfere with a police investigation. Many courts across the country have been facing the same issue. In every case except those still being decided, the person cited prevailed.
This has a significant impact on the First Amendment because what citizens are doing here is simply warning another person (by flashing their headlights) about a police speed trap. There is no difference between doing this mechanically (flashing headlights) or verbally because both are forms of speech.
The ACLU executive director said, “It is important that law enforcement officers in other jurisdictions take note of this federal court decision…”