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Houston Police Bust Woman Whose Cardboard Sign Warns Drivers of Speed Trap Ahead: Police Pocketbook vs Free Speech?

How often on the Texas roads you’ve driven have you seen motorists on the other side of the road or highway, traveling in the opposite direction, flashing their lights at you or simply driving in the daytime with their headlights on?  You slow down, don’t you – because you know that for many Texans, this is a friendly warning that you’re driving into a speed trap.

Or how often have you chatted with friends or been warned by relatives to drive carefully on a particular section of roadway because it’s a known speed trap?  Who hasn’t heard about Selma, Texas, and its reputation as a speed trap on Interstate 35?  Selma’s reputation as a speed trap even made its way into a well-known country song by Steve Earle (Guitar Town).

In Florida this spring, a judge ruled that flashing headlights to warn of a speed trap is protected free speech under the U.S. Constitution. (Read about the case here.)

So, it seems rather surprising that a woman riding a bike along a  Texas roadway, who stopped and wrote a sign on some cardboard warning drivers that there was a speed trap up ahead got in  so much trouble.  But she did.

Natalie Plummer was arrested earlier this month by Houston police because she was waving her cardboard sign warning of the speed trap.  Now, she’s mounted a defense – arguing that her constitutional right to free speech allowed her to do this.  An argument that the Florida court seemed to find acceptable by the way.

Meanwhile, Natalie Plummer has made both the national and international news because of her speed trap sign arrest:

Natalie Plummer spent 12 hours in jail – that’s right – behind BARS because she was waving this sign on a downtown Houston street. And what did the cops arrest her for?  Not for waiving the sign.  Nope.

They arrested her because she was standing in the street when there was a sidewalk available (a misdemeanor under Texas law).

Sure, that’s a crime.  This is a criminal, right? Well, something criminal seems to be going on down in The Bayou City.  Consider this:

  • In September 2011,  MyFoxHouston reported that their investigations revealed that Houston police were writing more traffic tickets in order to get more revenue into the police coffers.
  • In March 2012, national new coverage was following a study done by the National Motorists Association, which found that the City of Houston had more speed traps than any other city in the country: a total of 373 speed traps.

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