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Are there limits to free speech?

Jul 12, 2017 | Criminal Defense

We enjoy freedom of speech in Texas. It’s protected under the Constitution. But there are limits. You can’t yell fire in a crowded move theater. Banning certain speech is legal in a private home or business. Social media sites have a right to delete content deemed offensive. Administrators can abridge free speech rights of public school students. Depending on the laws of your state, uttering something that you don’t think is offensive, but someone else does, could get you arrested and charged with a crime.

The conditions for an arrest for obscenity have to be right in order for the charge to stick. But that might not prevent you from finding yourself cuffed and detained. And, as is the case anytime one is taken into custody, the right to speak with an attorney is one that deserves to be exercised.

What Texas law says

Most people might be stunned to learn the kinds of common activities that can get them in trouble with the police. They include, but are not limited to:  

  • Using vulgar, abusive or profane language in public
  • Making offensive gestures in public that might incite unruly conduct
  • Using chemicals to create an unpleasant smell in a public place

Flipping off a private citizen might spark a fight, but if that gesture is made to a police officer, it could trigger an arrest. Setting off a stink bomb might be viewed as a juvenile prank, but it could be disorderly conduct in the eyes of authorities. And, as a woman in Alabama found out recently, so could uttering the colorful word that rhymes with gas when the apparent target is wearing a badge.

In the pantheon of criminal charges, disorderly conduct seems insignificant, but it could still lead to unwanted consequences for you if prosecutors decide to press the case.

The point being, when charged with any crime, defending your rights becomes a priority.