Given that personal history, I can't help but pity poor Natalie Plummer, who was arrested last week in Houston for holding up a sign warning drives of a "speed trap" ahead on a street in downtown Houston. Here's KTRK-TV's coverage:
The officer told Ms. Plummer that she was being arrested for felony obstruction of justice that carried an penalty of 3-5 years. When she was taken to jail, though, she was only charged with "walking in the roadway where there is a sidewalk present," an allegation she says is a lie: Plummer insists she was standing on the sidewalk holding the sign, and when you watch the video with cars whizzing by, it seems unlikely any reasonable person would stand in the street with the sidewalk right there.
One has to wonder, if this were a young black man in the 5th Ward instead of a young white woman biking home from the Whole Foods, would media outlets even consider this news?
Of course, the main reason the officer didn't file felony obstruction charges against Ms. Plummer is that no such law exists. The closest thing on the books I know of is Sec. 38.15 of the Penal Code, "Interference with Public Duties," which is a Class B misdemeanor. But that statute includes a specific exception which should be well-known to any traffic cop. The law states that "It is a defense to prosecution ... that the conduct engaged in by the defendant was intended to warn a person operating a motor vehicle of the presence of a peace officer who was enforcing" traffic laws.
Further, "It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the interruption, disruption, impediment, or interference alleged consisted of speech only," which clearly would apply to holding up a sign. Ms. Plummer wasn't arrested for violating any law and I'd bet dollars to donuts she wasn't standing in the street: She was arrested for "contempt of cop," and the fact that there's no such law on the books didn't stop her from going to jail for it.
How much do you wanna bet it will turn out the officer's dashcam malfunctioned and failed to capture his conversation with Ms. Plummer? This episode exemplifies the adage enshrined in this blog's masthead: You might beat the rap, but you won't beat the ride.