Alabama Man Faces Jail Time for Refusing To Apologize to a Cop for Cursing During Traffic Stop

Reginald Burks says he told a police officer, "Get your ass out of the way so I can take my kids to school." First Amendment lawyers say he can't be forced to apologize.


An Alabama man is facing jail time for refusing to apologize to a police officer. 

When 39-year-old Reginald Burks cursed at a police officer during a tense traffic stop last year, an Alabama judge ordered him to say sorry to the cop—or spend up to 30 days behind bars.

According to critics, the judges' attempt to force an apology from Burks could be a violation of his First Amendment rights.

"Judges have considerable leeway to consider different factors in sentencing, including whether the defendant has shown remorse," Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a First Amendment nonprofit, tells Reason. "But mandating an apology as a condition of receiving a lighter sentence raises First Amendment concerns about compelled speech."  

On December 13, 2023, Burks was driving his children to school when he was pulled over for speeding. Burks told Al.com that the officer told him his radar gun wasn't working, so he used cruise control to guess how fast he was going.

"And I told him he was full of crap because there's no way that he clocked my speed by cruise control," Burks said. Once the officer gave Burks a ticket, Burks claims he stood in front of Burk's vehicle, making it difficult to get around him and continue on his drive.

"I said, 'Get your ass out of the way so I can take my kids to school,'" Burks told Al.com. "My daughter's like, 'Daddy you cursed.' And I said, 'I'm sorry boo.'"

Burks says that when he went to his court hearing to pay a fine and plead guilty to the traffic offense, Judge Nicholas Bull told him that he must write an apology to the officer who gave him a ticket or face 10 to 30 days in jail.

"I was like, I'll just pay the ticket, but I'm not going to apologize," Burks told Al.com "I didn't do anything to this officer besides curse. And there's no law saying that I can't curse or speak my mind."

Burks is right.

"Unless there is more going on here beyond what's been reported, it looks like the judge is simply punishing Burks for telling the officer, 'Get your ass out of the way so I can take my kids to school.'" Terr says. "But the First Amendment protects the right to criticize or be rude to a police officer. The police rightly did not arrest or charge Burks with any offense related to his speech."

"This man is being convicted for something they couldn't charge him with and win at trial," Burks' attorney David Harrison told NBC on Monday. "The crime here is not apologizing and that's my issue. It's not constitutionally sound. It's probably the most unsound decision that I've seen in 33 years of practicing law."

According to Harrison, Burks is considering filing a lawsuit.