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Can You Be Arrested For Cursing At The Police in San Jose, CA? 

Many people have negative interactions with the police and harbor deep anger and resentment toward them. As a result, we routinely see people cursing and swearing at the police in San Jose, CA. However, sometimes people wonder where the line is between free speech and committing a crime. 

Can you be arrested for cursing at the police in San Jose, CA? For the most part, no. You are allowed to swear at the police and call them names. However, sometimes swearing plus other actions can turn into a criminal offense.

First Amendment Right To Free Speech

Under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, we all have a right to free speech. This right guarantees that the government cannot limit the expression of ideas and thoughts in public places. 

However, this right is not unlimited. Certain types of speech are not protected under the First Amendment. While you are technically allowed to swear at the police, you should be careful that it doesn’t cross the line into unprotected speech.

Limits to Free Speech

There are many limits to free speech. These include: 

  • Incitement of imminent lawless action
  • Defamation
  • Fraud
  • Obscenity
  • Child pornography
  • Fighting words
  • Threats

When it comes to swearing at the police, you must make sure that your cursing does not transform into fighting words, threats, or incitement. If it does, you may be at risk for an arrest.

Incitement Of Imminent Lawless Action

In Bradenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court of the United States concluded that the government can criminalize words that incite imminent lawless action. For example, if you are at a protest and swear at the police while encouraging people to break into the nearby police station, this is incitement. 

Fighting Words

Fighting words are not protected by free speech. As the name suggests, fighting words are a direct personal insult. These words advocate for an immediate breach of the peace, like inviting someone to fight. So if you swear at the police and suggest that you want to fight them, then you may be crossing the line into unprotected speech.


While you can swear at the police and name-call, you cannot threaten them. You cannot threaten anyone in California. Threats are not protected by the First Amendment.

In San Jose, you can be convicted of criminal threats if you threaten great bodily injury or death and cause them to fear for their safety. This offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony

Disturbing The Peace In California

California also has a criminal offense called disturbing the peace that codifies these limits on free speech. Disturbing the peace prohibits: 

  • Unlawfully fighting or challenging another to fight in a public place
  • Maliciously and willfully disturbing another person with a loud and unreasonable noise
  • Using offensive words likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction 

If you are convicted of this crime, you can get up to 90 days in jail and a $400 fine. 

Obstruction Of Justice In California 

Sometimes people are arrested for obstruction of justice after swearing at the police while being arrested. Technically, it is unconstitutional to arrest someone for merely swearing at the police and calling them names. However, if this language is accompanied by some other form of resistance, then they might be arrested.

Obstruction is delaying, resisting, or obstructing a police officer while they are working. If you are swearing at the police while also refusing to let them handcuff you, for example, you may get arrested for obstruction. This is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1000 fine.

Contact an Experienced San Jose Criminal Defense Lawyer If You’ve Been Arrested

If you’ve been arrested for cursing at the police, resisting arrest, or some other alleged misconduct toward law enforcement, you may need legal help. Our criminal defense lawyers can help you protect your rights and understand your options for defending the charges. Contact Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law, today for more information.

For more information please contact our criminal defense law firm of Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law at the nearest location for a free consultation.

Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law – San Jose Office
1625 The Alameda, Suite 405, San Jose, CA 95126
(408) 217-8818

Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law – Redwood City Office
600 Allerton St Suite 201G, Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 299-0500

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