Disorderly Conduct, Breach of Peace, and the First Amendment

Imagine… if there were people who walked around with guns and assaulted anyone who hurt their feelings.

They say whatever they want – no matter how rude or cruel – and, if anyone responds in kind, they handcuff them, throw them in a cage, and force them to pay money to buy back their freedom.

You can stop imagining now. These people are real.

They’re called police officers – not all of them engage in this kind of illegal behavior, of course, but far too many law enforcement officials do.

“Contempt of Cop” Isn’t A Thing

Attorneys have long called the imaginary crime of talking back to a police officer “contempt of cop,” kind of like the actual crime of “contempt of court.”

But here’s the thing – contempt of court is a real thing, and contempt of cop is not. You don’t have to respect cops. You don’t even have to be nice to them. In most cases you should, but it’s not like a legal requirement.

Now, given the number of police shootings of unarmed suspects lately, it may be unwise to tell a cop to go screw himself. It’s kind of like, if a hornet is flying around your head, don’t swat at it…

The Constitution Guarantees Your Right to Be A Smart-A**

The First Amendment protects your right to question a cop, disagree with a cop, mouth off to a cop, and even tell a cop to go f*** himself.

For most of the past century, the US Supreme Court has upheld this right again and again:

  • In Gooding v. Wilson, the Court ruled that a Georgia statute prohibiting the use of “opprobrious words or abusive language” violated the First Amendment because it was vague and overly broad.
  • In Lewis v. New Orleans, the Supreme Court struck down an ordinance that made it illegal to curse at police, saying that cursing is constitutionally protected and that only “fighting words” are unprotected.
  • The Supreme Court ruled in Houston v. Hill that the First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers. Again, the court said the verbal abuse would have to rise to the level of fighting words to be unprotected.

The Supreme Court has not only upheld your right to curse at, challenge, or criticize police officers, they have also explicitly held that, if police arrest you for exercising that right, you can sue them in a 42 U.S. Code § 1983 action for violating your rights.

Police know that you have these rights – learning about them is part of their training. But they also know that a lot of people can’t afford to hire an attorney, and that, after a night spent in jail, most people just want to pay their fine and get home to their families.

What can I be Charged with for Making a Cop Mad?

There is no crime called “hurting the feelings of a public official.” So, if you talk back to a cop and hurt their feelings, the kind of charges you are likely to face in South Carolina are:

  • Disorderly conduct,
  • Interfering with a police officer, or
  • Breach of peace.

SC Disorderly Conduct First Amendment Lawyer in Myrtle Beach

If you’ve been charged with disorderly conduct or breach of peace in Myrtle Beach, SC or the surrounding area, call me.

If the arrest was based on the exercise of your First Amendment rights, we must first work on getting the criminal charge dismissed or winning it at trial. Then we can look at whether you have a civil lawsuit against the police for wrongful arrest and violation of your First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Call our Myrtle Beach criminal defense firm at (843) 492-5449 or fill out our online contact form to set up a free consultation.

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Contact Attorney Daniel A. Selwa to Discuss Your Case
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