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Can you be arrested for mouthing off to a police officer?

On Behalf of | Aug 11, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

No one is happy about being pulled over in their car by a police officer or being stopped on the street. However, it’s always wise to be careful about what you say to them. You could find yourself facing charges that have nothing to do with the alleged offense they stopped you for. 

To be clear, there isn’t a law that specifically forbids yelling, swearing or otherwise being rude to a law enforcement officer – as long as you’re not threatening to harm them or someone else. This is protected speech under the First Amendment. 

However, if your attitude gets an officer aggravated enough or concerned for their safety, they can certainly find one or more offenses to charge you with – in addition to a DUI or whatever the initial charge might have been. Let’s look at some examples.

Disturbing the peace (with or without swearing)

If you’re stopped on suspicion of DUI in the middle of the night in a residential neighborhood, for example, and start yelling at the officer, that could easily be considered disturbing the peace. If you add in some expletives, that’s not necessarily yet another offense. However, if your language gets into what are sometimes called “fighting words,” an officer could determine that you were threatening them and arrest you for that.

Obstructing a law enforcement officer or resisting arrest

It’s easy to get yourself riled up once you start yelling. If you fight an officer’s attempts to conduct a field sobriety test or put you in handcuffs, you could end up with what South Dakota law calls “obstructing a law enforcement officer.” This is when someone “using or threatening to use violence, force, or physical interference or obstacle, intentionally obstructs, impairs, or hinders the enforcement of the criminal laws or the preservation of the peace by a law enforcement officer….” It also applies to firefighters and other first responders.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment, particularly if you’re under the influence. No matter how unfair you believe the stop is or how inappropriate the officer’s attitude is, more words will generally not make things better. You can assert your rights firmly but politely. 

If you’re dealing with a DUI or drug charge along with one or two added charges because you didn’t go quietly, make sure you get legal guidance as soon as possible to help minimize the consequences.