You might want to curse a police officer for pulling you over for a traffic infraction, but you would probably never curse an officer out loud. However, not everyone shares the same reservations about cursing at the police. While freedom of speech protects some forms of communication, cursing at the police could result in a criminal charge under certain circumstances.

The laws regarding cursing police officers or using profane language when addressing an officer vary greatly by state. In some cases, cities or counties may have local ordinances that govern using profanity to address police officers. Ohio courts have applied the state’s disorderly conduct statutes when handling cases involving cursing at the police.

Therefore, if you encounter a police officer because of a drug crime, traffic stop, sex crime, or other matters, avoid using profane language. You do not want to add a disorderly conduct charge on top of any other criminal charges.

When is Cussing at a Police Officer Considered Disorderly Conduct?

Ohio’s disorderly conduct statutes provide a broad definition of disorderly conduct. The statute specifically prohibits individuals from causing alarm, inconvenience, or annoyance to another person by making an “offensively coarse utterance” or communicating “grossly abusive language.” Therefore, under a broad interpretation of the statute, cursing at an officer could be considered disorderly conduct.

However, First Amendment rights to freedom of speech must also be considered. Opinions from the Ohio Supreme Court have defined the type of statements to police officers that can be a crime under the disorderly conduct statutes.

Cussing at a police officer is a crime when the profanity used falls within the scope of “fighting words.” A recent case heard by the Ohio Court of Appeals refers to the definition of “fighting words” for a disorderly conduct arrest.

Are All Cuss Words Said to Police Officers, “Fighting Words?”

No, cursing at a police officer is not always considered fighting words. You can use cuss words in a discussion with a police officer without being guilty of using “fighting words.”

In the case of State v. Thurman (2016), Thurman was arrested by a police officer after leaving the scene of a traffic accident. As the officer attempted to question the defendant, Thurman used several curse words and a racial slur. He told the officer that he was not going to talk to him, and he would get him fired. The officer arrested Thurman for disorderly conduct.

Ohio courts have defined “fighting words” as words that are likely to provoke a reasonable person to retaliate or are likely to inflict injury. While profanity that is directed specifically to a police officer is typically considered “fighting words,” profanity that is used to describe a situation or object is generally not fighting words.

In Thurman, the defendant used profanity to describe the situation and that the officer was not the “law.” The officer testified that he did not appreciate being called names, which did not rise to the level of inciting violence.  Therefore, the court ruled that the cuss words were not fighting words.

In short, directing a cuss word at a police officer may result in a disorderly conduct charge. However, using cuss words when describing the situation or an object probably does not rise to the level of disorderly conduct.

What Should I do if I am Arrested for Disorderly Conduct?

In many cases, a disorderly conduct charge is a misdemeanor that carries no jail time and a small fine. However, it will create a criminal record.

There are cases in which a disorderly conduct charge can be charged as a misdemeanor of the fourth degree, which can result in jail time. Offenses that rise to a fourth-degree misdemeanor include:

  • A reasonable warning to stop is ignored;
  • The offense takes place near a school or school safety zone;
  • The offense takes place in the presence of a first responder performing his or her job at an accident scene, riot, fire, disaster, or other emergency;
  • The offense takes place in the presence of an emergency facility person who is performing his or her job; or,
  • The person has pleaded guilty or convicted of three or more disorderly conduct violations.

If you are charged with disorderly conduct, a criminal defense attorney can investigate the matter to determine if your actions truly violated the disorderly conduct statute. Exercise your right to remain silent except for providing your name and address. Ask for an attorney immediately and do not answer questions or make a statement until after consulting with your lawyer.