The definition of disorderly conduct can vary widely from state to state and encompass a range of different actions. Individuals that are charged with disorderly conduct have usually been behaving in a manner that is considered to be disruptive to those around them, but not necessarily harmful. Disorderly conduct typically warrants a misdemeanor charge.
Types of Disorderly Conduct
Disorderly conduct is commonly used as a catch-all charge for a variety of actions. Individuals that are accused of disorderly conduct may be using abusive language or otherwise instigating a fight. Depending on the state, making excessive noise after a certain hour or during solemn proceedings may also be considered disorderly conduct, often called “breach of peace” or “disturbing the peace.”
Other types of behavior that may warrant a disorderly conduct charge include:
- Public drunkenness
- Possession of an open alcohol container in a vehicle or public place
- Urinating in public
- Fighting or arguing loudly
- Disruptive protests that block passageways or roadways
- Disturbing a meeting, rally, or ceremony
- Arguing with a police officer that is trying to bring order to a crowd
- False reporting of threats
Disorderly Conduct Charges
While officers sometimes ask an individual to stop behavior that is considered unruly or disruptive prior to issuing a disorderly conduct charge, this is not always the case. Individuals may be charged with disorderly conduct by frustrated police officers without warning or explanation in some cases. It is not uncommon for individuals to be unjustly arrested for disorderly conduct after being in the vicinity of someone that was creating a disturbance. Disturbances that are considered disorderly contact also need not have actually disturbed another; prosecution must only prove that a reasonable person would have been bothered by the behavior.
Disorderly Conduct Penalties
Disorderly conduct is typically classified as a misdemeanor that is punishable with fines and sometimes community service, a short time in jail, or behavioral therapy or classes. In the case of falsely reporting a fire, bomb threat, or other serious threat, disorderly conduct may be considered a felony and may be punishable with prison time. Probation sentences are also a common penalty for disorderly conduct charges.
Disorderly Conduct Consequences
Having a criminal conviction for disorderly conduct can be detrimental to a person’s life. Criminal convictions can disqualify an individual from some jobs, and make it more difficult to advance in some careers. Criminal convictions may also be embarrassing and affect personal relationships and perceptions. If convicted of a felony, individuals also lose rights such as the right to carry a firearm and the right to vote.
Disorderly Conduct Defense
Due to the ambiguous definition of disorderly conduct, law officers may sometimes charge an individual with disorderly conduct when it is unwarranted. This can be an unethical move on the part of a police officer that cannot find any other charge, or it can be an honest mistake on the part of an officer that misinterprets a situation. In either case, an attorney that is skilled in disorderly conduct defense will be able to provide a defendant with advice and assistance.
First Amendment Defense
The right to free speech may be used as a defense against disorderly conduct as long as the words that were said are protected by the First Amendment. Speech that is not protected includes statements that are intended to incite violence or false reports of emergency situations. This defense may only be used in situations where speech is the only type of disorderly conduct in question.
If a defendant is charged with disorderly conduct because of a physical confrontation, self defense may be used to defend the individual’s actions if it is applicable. Every person has a right to defend against harm. An attorney will be able to assist a defendant in gathering evidence such as testimony or surveillance videos to support a self defense claim.
“Disorderly Conduct.” RCW 9A.84.030:. Washington State Legislature, 2 Feb. 2007. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=9A.84.030>
“New York Laws.” Article 240. YPD Crime, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://ypdcrime.com/penal.law/article240.htm>
“Statutes & Constitution: View Statutes: Online Sunshine.” Statutes & Constitution: View Statutes: Online Sunshine. The Florida Legislature, 24 May 2014. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0800-0899/0877/Sections/0877.03.html>