Being stopped by a cop is a terrifying experience for most people. If you find yourself in this situation, your stress and frustration may push you to argue or shout insults at the officer. Although the First Amendment protects your right to free expression, the police officer might still arrest you for disorderly conduct.
When rude behavior becomes disorderly conduct
With the First Amendment, police officers generally should not be able to arrest you for being rude, even if you are spouting profanities. However, the officer may see your actions as disorderly conduct and arrest you.
Disorderly conduct involves actions that threaten another person’s safety. It also involves using abusive language that naturally incites violence, sometimes referred to as fighting words. Expressing yourself with fighting words is not protected by the First Amendment and may result in legal consequences.
However, what constitutes fighting words is often unclear. Using offensive language does not always qualify as fighting words unless they are insulting and abusive enough to provoke a person. Generally, being on the receiving end of racial slurs or sexist remarks is unacceptable to most people.
Additionally, there are other ways to be disrespectful other than using offensive language. Attempting to push, spit or hit a police officer could be considered obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
In Georgia, the penalties for obstruction or disorderly behavior are up to $1,000 in fines, up to one year in prison or both.
Should you cooperate with the police?
Understandably, you might not want to cooperate, especially if you believe you’ve done nothing wrong. However, arguing with a police officer or resisting arrest could worsen your situation.
Being aware of your rights upon arrest can be instrumental in protecting yourself. In addition to your right to remain silent, you have the right to seek legal representation.