Police Can Arrest You for Calling them Names, but They’ll Lose in Court

Wednesday, July 01, 2015
(photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

Calling a police officer an asshole, or other names, might not be polite but it is protected by the Constitution, as has been proven in many cases.


The Marshall Project documented numerous cases demonstrating that police have exceeded their authority by arresting people for calling them unflattering names.


In Washington State, a teenage boy called an officer in the process of arresting the boy’s sister a “motherfucker.” His conviction was overturned last week by the state Supreme Court.


In Georgia, a woman was awarded a $100,000 settlement after police arrested her in 2012 and placed her in solitary confinement for cursing at them and flipping the officers the bird.


A New York court, in finding for a defendant who called an officer an asshole, said: “as a matter of law, the epithet ‘asshole’ is not so inherently inflammatory that, when addressed to an ordinary citizen, it is ‘inherently likely to provoke violent action.’” The court added: “There was a period of time in our cultural milieu when the epithet may well have been inherently inflammatory. However, that situation no longer exists.”


Others have gotten off after calling police “fucking pigs” and “fucking jokes.”


But there are limits to what a person can get away with saying to law enforcement. Speech that threatens violence or uses “fighting words” that could incite a violent response, such as “I’ll mess you up!” are not allowed under the law.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

‘You’re Really Being an Asshole, Officer.’ (by Ken Armstrong, The Marshall Project)

Cursing Out Police Is Perfectly Legal, But Cops Routinely Arrest People for It (by Terrell Jermaine Starr, AlterNet)

Washington State Supreme Court Rules that Swearing at the Police is not a Crime (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


dan 8 years ago
The cop's action of arresting an individual who calls him an asshole just proves he is truly an ads hold.

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