Contempt of Cop and Other Wrongful Arrests by SC Police

Can police officers arrest you just for calling them names, criticizing them, or even cursing at them?

Yes, they can.

Is it legal?

No, it’s not.

Some police and defense attorneys call it “contempt of cop,” a play on words alluding to the very real crime of contempt of court – when a person is disrespectful to a judge in court or refuses to obey a court order. The problem is, contempt of cop is not a crime. It is your right, guaranteed by the First Amendment, to feel contempt for a police officer and to express it.

If you’ve been arrested solely for exercising your First Amendment rights, we will work to get your charges dismissed or win your case at trial, preserving evidence for use in a potential lawsuit. Then, we will review your case and advise you as to whether you have a civil lawsuit for wrongful arrest and violation of your First Amendment rights.

Would Police Really Arrest Someone Just for Offending Them?

Absolutely. Just ask Robert Frese. Police in New Hampshire arrested him for criticizing them online last month.

Frese was cuffed and taken to jail after he wrote, in a comment on an online article, that a police officer had treated him unfairly and that the police chief had “covered up for this dirty cop.”

According to the criminal complaint, Frese “purposely communicated on a public website, in writing, information which he knows to be false and knows will tend to expose another person to public contempt… ”

What Does the Law Say About It?

I don’t see anything particularly offensive, profane, or obscene in Frese’s post. But, let’s just pretend for a moment that “dirty” is actually a highly offensive label. What does the law say about calling cops names?

South Carolina’s Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court have consistently held for decades that you cannot be arrested for criticizing police officers or expressing your opinion, even if you are cursing, as long as you are not using “fighting words.”:

Is it Defamation?

But, what about the claim that Frese published information that he “knows to be false?” Could the police sue him for defamation? First, who’s to say it isn’t true?

In the end, it may not matter if it’s true, according to these Supreme Court decisions:

  • United States v. Alvarez: The court held that the First Amendment protects a lot of false speech, especially when it’s political speech (after all, what would politicians have to say if they could only speak the truth?).
  • New York Times v. Sullivan: The court established the “actual malice” standard, which requires that a public official or public figure (which should include a police officer) suing for defamation prove that the publisher of the information in question knew the information was false and acted recklessly to share it anyway.

The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect speech – especially political speech like criticizing public officials.

First Amendment Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC

It is never in anyone’s interest to antagonize a police officer just because they can – after all, these people carry guns and are not afraid to use them, and they can handcuff you and put you in jail. But, it is not illegal to challenge them or even curse at them, and it’s certainly not illegal to call them “dirty.”

If you’ve been arrested for public disorderly conduct, breach of peace, interfering with a police officer, or threatening a public official in SC solely for expressing an opinion or criticizing police, call Charleston attorney Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or send us a message on our website to discuss your case.