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Category: Court and Law

The law on gestures and the function of gestures in court

Wanker Gesture Lands Lawyer in Jail

The Wanker gesture is the second most often occuring gesture in the news, with giving the finger a mile in the lead. In third place is the ‘fuck-you’ forearm jerk. What do these have in common? They are insults, and unexpected insults are apparently very newsworthy.

Wanker gesture
(source: Wikipedia)

The latest wanker case comes from the Austin, Texas, US…

From Travis County Court at Law #6 Judge Jan Breland put Adam Reposa into jail after he made what is described in court documents as “…a simulated masturbatory gesture with his hand while making eye contact with the Court…”

US Police vs. The Finger

Giving the finger to the police, it remains an interesting case. Earlier I wrote that the Dutch police had booked and fined a man for it, which was overturned in court by a judge.

Now, a similar thing has happened in Mobile, Alabama (USA). brought the news: Mobile Appeals $3K Payment Over Gesture.

MOBILE, Ala. – The city of Mobile is appealing a judge’s decision to award $3,000 to a motorist who was arrested for making an obscene hand gesture to a police officer. City attorney Ashton Hill said Wednesday the city is seeking to have Addison DeBoi’s civil suit heard in circuit court.
On July 31, District Court Judge Michael McMaken ruled in favor of DeBoi in his wrongful arrest suit and ordered the police department to pay $3,000.
DeBoi, 56, was arrested by Officer Bristol Hines on Sept. 2, 2005, on a charge of disorderly conduct after he made a hand gesture while the two men were in their vehicles. He was acquitted last year and sued the city for $10,000 in damages, citing time lost from work, the threat of losing his engineering job , which requires a government security clearance , and the embarrassment of being put in jail.
In awarding him $3,000, the judge said police officers must have “thicker skin” than the general public.

The rulings by the judges in the Netherlands and Alabama are along the same lines: the police should be less sensitive about being insulted. Unfortunately, being sensitive to insults is probably required if you do not want your authority challenged. Sensitivity lies at the heart of the perception of insults, which is a very subtle process. If the police are instructed to ‘not be too sensitive’ it probably greatly hinders their functioning. After all, we all rely on their judgment in all sorts of situations regarding aggression, violence, or misconduct, which all require a policeman to rely on his personal perception of other people’s behavior. Why can’t we rely on them to judge whether someone was ‘insulting’?

On the other hand, I was once taught how to referee a football game by none other than Mario van der Ende (a well known referee in Holland). He said that verbal abuse was always flying around on the pitch, most of it directed at him. He recommended to pretend not to hear it the first time (tempers can fly). A second time he would rebuff the perpetrator with a sneer or mocking insult of his own. Only if that wouldn’t take care of it, a booking (yellow card) would be given. I think it made him one of the most respected referees in the competition.

Maybe respect is gained as much from restraint in handing out punishment as it is from punishment itself.

ps. I just finished this post when I saw that the UK police gave a man a 80 pound fine for giving the finger to a speed camera (and/or the cops operating it). I hope Simon Thompson (a respected citizen and school headmaster) will fight the decision, and let it go to court. I wonder whether the UK judge will follow the above examples from Alabama and the Netherlands.

Elsewhere: The legal history of the finger (also showing many examples of verdicts and appeals where fines for fingers are overturned and arrests judged to be wrongful) – Jalopnik

Morrison fined $25,000 for giving the finger

Adam Morrison, a Canadian basketball player, was fined $25.000 for giving the finger to a nagging fan.

Finger in happier times
Well, it was probably another finger but nobody is hosting an image of the incident anywhere… (source)

Is this fine fair? Here are some exactly similar cases to help you decide a fair punishment:
* Zach Randolph (basketball, USA) was fined $133.333
* Mark van Bommel (football, Germany) was fined EUR6,200
* Michael Vick (American football, USA) was fined $10.000
* Ron Artest (basketball, USA) was fined $10,000
* Natasha Zvereva (tennis, Wimbledon) was fined $1,000
* Juan Pablo Montoya (NASCAR, USA) was fined $10,000

More on fines and jailtime for gestures

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