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“Fighting Words” is not necessarily a phrase you would expect to find in a body of law, namely because you wouldn’t even find the phrase in a dictionary. The phrase in and of itself is entirely subjective. Generally, people think of fighting words as offensive or provocative words designed to trigger a response, and subsequently raise one’s temper causing them to lose control.

In theory, they are wordswhere basic human instinct would be to fight back. One would imagine, however,that what separates a civilized society from a primitive society is thediscipline to suppress some of our more primitive instincts and default to amoral-based rule of law. From this perspective, it may seem common sense thatan individual has a personal responsibility to not be baited in by fightingwords, and to instead walk away.

Georgia, however, has anextremely unique state law- fighting words are actually completely validjustifications to strike back, within reason. So long as you are within Georgiastate lines, an attorney familiar with this statute may be able to argue thatcharges pending against you for the crimes of Simple Battery or Simple Assaultare invalid if the accuser verbally provoked the altercation.


“Fighting Words” may seem like an informal concept, but itis a concept that the state of Georgia takes extremely seriously. Not only aresuch words illegal per O.C.G.A § 16-11-39 Disorderly Conduct, butGeorgia law takes it a step further and actually permits such words to serve asjustification for Simple Battery and Simple Assault via O.C.G.A § 16-5-25,Opprobrious or abusive language as justification for simple assault orsimple battery. The specific language of the statute is as follows:

“A person charged with the offense of simple assault orsimple battery may introduce in evidence any opprobrious or abusive languageused by the person against whom force was threatened or used; and the trier offacts may, in its discretion, find that the words used were justification forsimple assault or simple battery.”

However, this does not amount to a hall pass for allviolence you feel another was “asking for”. When reviewing and reading thelanguage of the statute carefully, there are some key exceptions:

So let’s first look at the differences between theclassifications of Battery and Assault to understand what the specific itemsare within an assault that may block you from using O.C.G.A § 16-5-25 asa defense, provided the court is able to prove their presence.

Under Georgia lawO.C.G.A. § 16-5-23-(a), a person commits the offense of SimpleBattery when he or she intentionally makes physical contact of an insultingor provoking nature with the person of another, or intentionally causesphysical harm to another.

Under Georgia lawO.C.G.A. § 16-5-23.1-(a), a person commits the offense of Batterywhen he or she intentionally causes substantial physical harm or visiblebodily harm to another. The term “visible bodily harm” meansbodily harm capable of being perceived by a person other than the victim andmay include, but is not limited to, substantially blackened eyes, substantiallyswollen lips or other facial or body parts, or substantial bruises to bodyparts.

Under Georgia lawO.C.G.A. § 16-5-24-(a), a person commits the offense of Aggravated Batterywhen he or she maliciously causes bodily harm to another by depriving him orher of a member of his or her body, by rendering a member of his or her bodyuseless, or by seriously disfiguring his or her body or a member thereof.

Under Georgia lawO.C.G.A. § 16-5-20, A person commits the offense of Simple Assaultwhen he or she either attempts to commit a violent injury to the person ofanother; or commits an act which places another in reasonable apprehension ofimmediately receiving a violent injury.

Under Georgia lawO.C.G.A. § 16-5-21, A person commits the offense of AggravatedAssault when he or she assaults:

(1) With intentto murder, to rape, or to rob;

(2) With a deadlyweapon or with any object which is likely to result in serious bodilyinjury;

(3) With any objectwhich is likely to result in strangulation; or

(4) A person orpersons without legal justification by discharging a firearm from within amotor vehicle toward a person or persons.

Tying everythingtogether, a list of disqualifiers for protection under O.C.G.A § 16-5-25 andcorresponding examples are below:

Let’s look at some examples of cases where the defendantforfeited their right to use O.C.G.A § 16-5-25 as a defense, resultingin convictions.


Bryant v. State, 226Ga.App. 135, 486 S.E.2d 374 (Ga. App. 1997)

In the case of Bryant, Dwight Bryant and hisaccuser, whom he had known for six years, visited several nightclubs together.In the early morning hours, they drove in separate cars to her residence, whereshe left the car she was driving and accompanied him to his home. She refusedto have sex with Bryant unless he wore a condom, and he ordered her to leaveeven though she had no car. Bryant then telephoned the police to have herremoved from the premises. An argument ensued, and when the victim accusedBryant of being infected with the HIV virus and having no respect for women,Bryant struck her in the head with his fist. The victim then gathered herbelongings and walked to her home. The next morning, when she sought medicalattention for her head, a nurse at the hospital informed the police.

Bryant claimed that the story was fabricated and that henever struck the accuser, but ultimately the jury was authorized to believe thetestimony of the victim rather than that of Bryant, and he was convicted.

On appeal, Bryant argued that the evidence did notsupport his conviction because it showed the victim was a criminal trespasserwho provoked and insulted him. He relied upon OCGA § 16-5-25, whichprovides that against a charge of simple battery a defendant may introduceevidence of “opprobrious or abusive language” used by the victim, andthe trier of fact may find the attack justified.

It was declared that the jury in this case heard the evidenceshowing that the victim was asked to leave, and that she used what Bryantcontended was “opprobrious or abusive language” against him. O.C.G.A.§ 16-5-25 requires nothing more. From this evidence, the jury would havebeen permitted to find that Bryant was justified in hitting the victim.

Unfortunately, this defense was rejected on the groundsthat his original testimony and statement of facts was that he had never struckthe accuser, and it was decided that to appeal by saying why he struckthe accuser conflicted with his original statement of fact, which was that he didnot hit the accuser. The appeal was therefore denied.

A.C., In Interest of, 486S.E.2d 646, 226 Ga.App. 369 (Ga. App. 1997)

In A.C., an altercation arose by two minors, A.C.and C.D., who attended Griffin High School.

On the day of the incident, A.C. and C.D. were arguingoutside the school cafeteria, and C.D. told A.C. “‘I’m going to kick yourbutt…. where are all your boys? They ain’t here to help you.” A studentobserving the confrontation testified that at some point C.D. put his hand upwithout touching A.C., “and then walked off.” According to thestudent, A.C. then “came up to C.D. and punched him and then they began tofight.”

Kevin Smith was a teacher at Griffin High School at thetime of the incident. Smith testified that he ran outside his office when heheard students yelling. He stated that he saw C.D. “on his back …shaking a little bit and his eyes were rolled back and A.C. was stomping him inthe head.” Smith then “restrained” A.C. and took him to theoffice. Two students similarly testified that they saw C.D. lying on the floorand A.C. kicking and stomping him around the face and chest area.

Although A.C. did not testify at trial, he presentedtestimony from a student that the fight started after C.D. pushed A.C. A.C.contends that his conduct was justified because he was attempting to defendhimself against C.D.

Upon review of the appeal and the alleged grounds that “althoughopprobrious remarks can justify a simple battery under OCGA § 16-5-25, suchbattery cannot be disproportionate to the opprobrious words used as cited in Collumv. State, 65 Ga.App. 740, 742, 16 S.E.2d 483 (1941) (decided under formerCode 1933, § 26-1409). It was for the trier of fact to determine whether thebattery in this case was justified by C.D.’s opprobrious words, and the trialcourt apparently found that it was not.”

Collum v. State, 65 Ga.App.740, 16 S.E.2d 483 (Ga. App. 1941)

In Collum, defendant, the deceased, and two othercompanions traveling in an automobile, arrived from Colquit, Georgia, in theCity of Americus. All had been drinking to some extent. They went into aneating place, ordered sandwiches, and up to this time they were peaceful. Thedefendant remarked that he did not know that he wanted a sandwich. The deceasedreplied: “Go ahead and eat it, you son of a bitch.” The defendantretorted: “Don’t say that anymore.” The deceased repeated theopprobrious words.

The defendant, according to some of the State’switnesses, facing the deceased (Jordan), struck him one severe blow with hisfist in the face and knocked him back and onto the concrete floor. Jordan wasrendered unconscious and was carried to a hospital for treatment. Anexamination was made of Jordan by Dr. Primrose, on his arrival at the hospital.This occurred about eight o’clock in the evening. The next morning Jordan wasremoved from the hospital by his family and the family physician, Dr. Smith. Theinjuries caused the subsequent death of Jordan.

The court ruled that “No one will dispute the right of the defendant toassault and beat another for such opprobrious words as Jordan used towards thedefendant in the instant case. Code, [O.C.G.A. § 16-5-25], announcesthis right.

But the law also says, inferentially at least, that thebattery cannot be disproportionate to the opprobrious words used, and never tothe extent of taking life, intentionally or unintentionally where the batteryis excessive. Any step beyond proportionate resentment carries one into themire of unlawfulness, whether there be one or many blows, and the Code sectionquoted provides the means by which this question is determined, as follows:“…and such words and language may or may not amount to a justification,according to the nature and extent of the battery, all of which shall bedetermined by the jury. The jury determined that the blow inflicted by thedefendant was disproportionate to the opprobrious words used and was thereforeunlawful, whether inflicted with the fist or other instrument causing Jordan’sdeath.”


If you have been charged with Simple Assault or Simple Battery, give Bixon Law a call today to speak to one of our experienced Georgia criminal defense lawyers. We will vigorously defend your legal rights and advocate on your behalf to have your case dismissed or the charges against you reduced. As experienced trial attorneys, we are also not afraid to take your case to trial if necessary. We represent clients in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia. We are lawyers who are committed to helping people in difficult situations, and we invite you to call us at (404) 551-5684 for a free consultation today.



The fighting words doctrine allows government to limit speech when it is likely to incite

In criminal law, incitement is the encouragement of another person to commit a crime. Depending on the jurisdiction, some or all types of incitement may be illegal. Where illegal, it is known as an inchoate offense, where harm is intended but may or may not have actually occurred. › wiki › Incitement
immediate violence or retaliation by the recipients of the words.

What words are legally considered fighting words? ›

Fighting words are words meant to incite violence such that they may not be protected free speech under the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court first defined them in Chaplinsky v New Hampshire (1942) as words which "by their very utterance, inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.

Is there a law about fighting words? ›

Id. The Court held that government may not punish profane, vulgar, or opprobrious words simply because they are offensive, but only if they are fighting words that have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person to whom they are directed. Gooding v. Wilson, 405 U.S. 518 (1972); Hess v.

What is the legal precedent for fighting words? ›

The Supreme Court decision in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942), established the doctrine of fighting words, a type of speech or communication not protected by the First Amendment.

Are fighting words considered protected speech? ›

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942) that fighting words are not protected by the First Amendment.

Can you hit someone if they use fighting words? ›

Even though "fighting words" aren't protected as free speech, they're still not a legal justification for violence. Schwartzbach said that even if someone threatens you and said they're going to beat you up or kill you, the law doesn't give you the right to slug them.

Are fighting words a legal defense? ›

The fighting words doctrine allows government to limit speech when it is likely to incite immediate violence or retaliation by the recipients of the words.

Is it illegal to say you want to fight someone? ›

Yes, it is illegal to make a criminal threat.

Is verbally threatening someone a crime? Verbal threats may be said as a joke or as an intimidation tactic with no intention of causing bodily harm.

Is verbal fighting illegal? ›

"Verbal abuse" does not exist as a crime. Physical assault, on the other hand, is a crime. Threatening physical injury or violence, on the other hand, is illegal. The victim can seek assault or battery charges against you if you threaten or commit physical violence.

Is it illegal to encourage a fight? ›

Incitement to riot is illegal under U.S. federal law.

Can you sue for fighting words? ›

Fighting words are not an excuse or defense for a retaliatory assault and battery. However, if they are so threatening as to cause apprehension, they can form the basis for a lawsuit for assault, even though the words alone don't constitute an assault.

What is considered a true threat? ›

In legal parlance a true threat is a statement that is meant to frighten or intimidate one or more specified persons into believing that they will be seriously harmed by the speaker or by someone acting at the speaker's behest.

What is the legal definition of fighting? ›

Fight means mutual participation in a physical conflict involving two (2) or more persons. It does not include verbal confrontations. ( see Simple Assault, Simple.

What are 5 things that are not protected under free speech? ›

Second, a few narrow categories of speech are not protected from government restrictions. The main such categories are incitement, defamation, fraud, obscenity, child pornography, fighting words, and threats.

What are three things not protected by the First Amendment? ›

Categories of speech that are given lesser or no protection by the First Amendment (and therefore may be restricted) include obscenity, fraud, child pornography, speech integral to illegal conduct, speech that incites imminent lawless action, speech that violates intellectual property law, true threats, and commercial ...

What reasons are usually given to exclude fighting words from First Amendment protection? ›

The Supreme Court has cited three reasons why threats of violence are outside the First Amendment: protecting individuals from the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders, and from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur.

Can I punch someone for spitting on me? ›

In addition to battery, the crime of “assault” under Penal Code § 240 is also available for spitting. This crime covers the attempt to use force or violence rather than the actual contact. This means that spitting toward someone is a crime in and of itself, whether the spit makes contact or not.

Can you fight someone if they get in your face? ›

In short, if getting in someone's face involves threatening them with imminent bodily injury, it might be considered assault, which the state classifies as a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor conviction will remain on your record and can have a variety of negative repercussions for your future.

Can I punch someone for yelling at me? ›

If that someone is getting in your face and screaming at you, threatening you, that is assault. You using just enough force to end the threat is acceptable.

Is inciting violence protected speech? ›

Advocacy of force or criminal activity does not receive First Amendment protections if (1) the advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action, and (2) is likely to incite or produce such action.

Is asking someone to step outside a threat? ›

It's a threat, a form of harassment.

What speech isn't protected by the First Amendment? ›

The categories of unprotected speech include obscenity, child pornography, defamatory speech, false advertising, true threats, and fighting words. Deciding what is and is not protected speech is reserved to courts of law. The First Amendment only prevents government restrictions on speech.

Can you hit someone if they say to hit them? ›

Most of the time, words alone do not count as imminent threat, and if you hit first, you will still be the liable aggressor in an altercation. Even if somebody claims they are going to “beat you up” or engages in “fighting words,” you are not legally allowed to hit them.

What are valid reasons to fight someone? ›

It can be for love, family, power, freedom, sacrifice, and pride are one of the many reason to fight. Also different circumstances can cause people to fight. Things like oppression, race, and cultures can cause confliction with over people.

Can you get in trouble for trying to fight someone? ›

The short answer is yes, you can go to jail for fighting. However, you have the right to physically defend yourself as long as it is not excessive. Even if you strike first in a fight, you may not be committing a crime.

What to do if someone is verbally attacking you? ›

Here are some tips to deal with verbal abuse:
  1. Walking away. If you feel safe doing so, consider walking away when someone is trying to hurt you with words. ...
  2. Taking the high road. ...
  3. Being clear to yourself about your boundaries. ...
  4. Protecting your self-worth. ...
  5. Harnessing empathy. ...
  6. Re-centering.
Jul 1, 2022

What is considered a verbal assault? ›

Legally defined, verbal assault is a form of domestic violence that occurs if such an individual intentionally tries to damage the mental or emotional wellbeing of someone through their words, spoken or written.

Can you punch someone for verbal assault? ›

Almost always it is illegal. Presuming it is MERELY verbal, there are almost no circumstances where you would be legal committing a physical assault and battery. And if you were legal, you might STILL FACE CHARGES where you would need to prove why there was an exception.

Is voluntary fighting legal? ›

Washington and Texas are the only two states in the United States where mutual combat is legal. In Washington, the mutual combat must take place in a public place, and both parties must agree to the fight.

What is it called when you encourage a fight? ›

Definition of provoke. as in to encourage. to rouse to strong feeling or action his teasing finally provoked her to anger bees generally will not sting unless they are provoked. Synonyms & Similar Words.

Is forcing someone to do something illegal? ›

The statutory definition of coercion is fairly uniform among the states: the use of intimidation or threats to force (or prevent) someone to do something they have a legal right to do (or not to do). Charges typically are enhanced if physical force was used or threatened.

Does the 1st Amendment protect hate speech? ›

Effectively, the Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed that there is no 'hate speech' exception to the First Amendment.

Can you sue over word of mouth? ›

Can I Sue for Breach of Verbal Contract? Yes, you can sue for breach of verbal contract even if a handshake agreement didn't occur. If one party accepted another party's services, then the parties most likely reached an enforceable agreement.

What is considered inciting violence? ›

Criminal incitement refers to conduct, words, or other means that urge or naturally lead others to riot, violence, or insurrection. Defend your rights. We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.

Is intimidation a form of assault? ›

In domestic violence situations, when someone is accused of threatening or intimidating another, the offense can be charged as an assault offense and is considered a violent crime.

What is intimidation by threat called? ›

Extortion is the wrongful use of actual or threatened force, intimidation, or even violence to gain money or property. Typically extortion generally involves a threat made to the victim or their property, friends, or family members. The Hobbs Act of 1946 prohibits extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

What is an example of a verbal threat? ›

An example of a verbal threat is an employee telling their boss they will strangle them if they don't receive a promotion. This is a verbal threat and may be deemed criminal by a court since it is specific and genuine.

What is martial law in legal terms? ›

Martial law involves the temporary substitution of military authority for civilian rule and is usually invoked in time of war, rebellion, or natural disaster. When martial law is in effect, the military commander of an area or country has unlimited authority to make and enforce laws.

What are the 3 limits to freedom of speech? ›

Time, place, and manner. Limitations based on time, place, and manner apply to all speech, regardless of the view expressed. They are generally restrictions that are intended to balance other rights or a legitimate government interest.

What are the 4 limits of freedom of speech? ›

Teach incoming students about when speech crosses the line and loses First Amendment protection. This module focuses primarily on defining and providing examples of freedom of speech limitations, such as harassment, true threats, intimidation, and other unlawful conduct.

What type of speech is most protected? ›

Although it has not been put in a separate category, political speech has received the greatest protection. The Court has stated that the ability to criticize the government and government officials is central to the meaning of the First Amendment.

What is the difference between incitement and fighting words? ›

The difference between incitement and fighting words is subtle, focusing on the intent of the speaker. Inciting speech is characterized by the speaker's intent to make someone else the instrument of his or her unlawful will. Fighting words, by contrast, are intended to cause the hearer to react to the speaker.

What 5 basic rights are protected by the First Amendment? ›

The five freedoms it protects: speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government.

What are 3 rights protected by the Constitution? ›

First Amendment: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. Second Amendment: the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Third Amendment: restricts housing soldiers in private homes. Fourth Amendment: protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

What is the fighting words standard? ›

The fighting words doctrine allows government to limit speech when it is likely to incite immediate violence or retaliation by the recipients of the words.

Are fighting words constitutionally protected? ›

Id. The Court held that government may not punish profane, vulgar, or opprobrious words simply because they are offensive, but only if they are fighting words that have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person to whom they are directed. Gooding v. Wilson, 405 U.S. 518 (1972); Hess v.

Is intimidation protected by First Amendment? ›

A true threat is not protected by the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court defined true threats in Virginia v.

What phrases are illegal to say? ›

  • Incitement. 1.1 Incitement to suicide.
  • False statements of fact.
  • Commercial speech. 3.1 Speech owned by others.
  • Counterfeit currency.
  • Fighting words.
  • Threatening the president of the United States.
  • Restrictions based on special capacity of government.

What are some fighting verbs? ›

  • battle.
  • combat.
  • war (against)
  • duel.
  • beat.
  • clash (with)
  • wrestle.
  • skirmish (with)

What are the 3 restrictions to freedom of speech? ›

Government can limit some protected speech by imposing "time, place and manner" restrictions. This is most commonly done by requiring permits for meetings, rallies and demonstrations. But a permit cannot be unreasonably withheld, nor can it be denied based on content of the speech.

What is a strong word for fight? ›

fisticuffs. fracas. fray. free-for-all. fuss.

What is the 3 form of fight? ›

Fought is the past tense and past participle of fight.

What is a verbal fight called? ›

quarrel, wrangle, altercation, squabble mean a noisy dispute usually marked by anger. quarrel implies heated verbal contention, stressing strained or severed relations which may persist beyond the contention.

Can you legally challenge someone to a fight? ›

Fighting in Public and Disorderly Conduct

Under this law, it is illegal to fight or to challenge someone to fight in a public place. Disturbing the peace can be charged as infraction, punishable by a fine, or as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $400 fine.

What is the legal term for fighting in public? ›

Affray is a common law offense, but the term “affray” is defined by G.L. c. 277, § 39: “Affray. – Fighting together of two or more persons in a public place to the terror of the persons lawfully there.” Lawful presence in the public place of the person placed in fear is a required element of proof of affray.

What is the legal term for physical fight? ›

Related Definitions

Physical altercation means a dispute between individuals in which one or more persons sustain bodily injury arising out of the dispute.

What are the violations of freedom of speech? ›

Freedom of speech and expression, therefore, may not be recognized as being absolute, and common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, hate speech, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, ...

What are the limits of freedom of speech? ›

Second, a few narrow categories of speech are not protected from government restrictions. The main such categories are incitement, defamation, fraud, obscenity, child pornography, fighting words, and threats.

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