Disorderly conduct is a criminal offense that can result in severe penalties if convicted. It involves behavior that disrupts public peace and order. Depending on the circumstances, it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. But what constitutes disorderly conduct? Is it always a crime? What are the legal consequences of a conviction?
To help you understand the dos and don'ts of disorderly conduct, here is an overview of what it means, its consequences, and what you can do to protect yourself if you’re facing charges.
According to the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there were 310,331 arrests in relation to disorderly conduct in 2019 alone. Disorderly conduct laws prevent people from engaging in disruptive behavior that could hurt another person or damage property.
As a basic definition, it constitutes acts that alarm, provoke, annoy, or disturb others and create a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance, or panic.
The laws are written to protect public safety, order, and peace in communities. Generally, they prohibit behavior such as fighting in a public place, making unreasonable noise in a residential area, using obscene or abusive language in public, and engaging in other offensive conditions.
Disorderly conduct can block public building access or obstruct pedestrian traffic. Violations of disorderly conduct laws are generally classified as misdemeanors, but some states may charge them as a felony depending on the circumstances. In some instances, subsequent violations may be considered felonies as well.
What Are Examples of Disorderly Conduct?
Disorderly conduct can take many forms, including but not limited to: engaging in physical or verbal altercations, making false reports to the police officer, participating in a violent or tumultuous assembly at a memorial service, and disrupting a lawful assembly of persons.
It can also include conducting oneself in a manner that would alarm or disturb a reasonable person, such as engaging in loud and boisterous behavior or using obscene language.
Moreover, it can involve obstructing the movement of persons at a public meeting or disobeying instructions from a person in charge of a lawful assembly or memorial service - which accounted for about 6% of the arrests in 2018.
Furthermore, in some cases, even simply being present at a location where there is an imminent threat of violence or physical harm to human life can be considered dissolute conduct. This would typically occur in cases where a person fails to leave the area when instructed by a law enforcement officer.
What Are Common Defenses to Disorderly Conduct Charges?
Like most offenses, a few potential defenses can be used in disorderly conduct cases. These are the common defenses:
If you acted in self-defense, you could argue that your behavior was justified or lawful. This means that you must be able to demonstrate that you were in a position of being threatened or harmed and that your behavior was, therefore, necessary to protect yourself. For example, if someone is attacking you and you push them away to protect yourself, that could be ruled as lawful.
If your behavior was unintentional, you could argue that it was merely an accident and that you did not intend to cause public alarm or disturbance. This could be the case if, for example, you were playing loud music and the volume was too high, and it disturbed your neighbors.
If someone else is being charged with disorderly conduct and it was not actually you who engaged in the behavior, then this defense may be available to you.
This defense may be used if your behavior is considered reasonably necessary to protect yourself or someone else from imminent physical injury or bodily harm. For instance, if you had to intervene to prevent someone else from being injured.
Lack of Intent
If it can be established that you did not intend to engage in the behavior that is alleged, then this may be used as a defense against disorderly conduct charges. This could apply if your actions were accidental or you had no knowledge that you were engaging in the behavior.
If you were threatened or coerced into engaging in the behavior that is at issue, then this defense may be available to you. This happens when an individual is forced to do something under the threat of harm or death.
Though not as common, in some cases, it may be possible to argue that the defendant was not mentally competent at the time of the offense and thus should not be held accountable for their actions. This is because they needed an improved understanding of their actions and the potential consequences.
Penalties: Is Disorderly Conduct a Misdemeanor or a Felony?
The penalties for disorderly conduct can vary widely depending on the circumstances and the jurisdiction. In most cases, it is classified as a misdemeanor and carries consequences such as fines, community service, probation, or a jail sentence.
However, it can also be charged as a felony in some cases, such as involving acts of violence or other serious crimes. Additionally, if an individual is convicted of disorderly conduct multiple times, the penalties may become harsher, including a felony conviction.
In addition to criminal charges, some individuals may be subject to civil penalties. These can include restitution for any property damage, medical bills stemming from the incident, and a restraining order if necessary.
Here are the specific penalties for disorderly conduct:
Depending on the severity of the offense and the jurisdiction, disorderly conduct may be punishable by jail time. Jail terms typically range from a few days to several months, with higher penalties for repeat or subsequent offenders.
Fines associated with disorderly conduct are usually minimal but may increase if there is significant damage to property or injury to persons involved in the incident. For example, some states may impose a fine of up to $500 for a first-time offense.
Many states and jurisdictions require individuals convicted of disorderly conduct to perform community service as part of their sentence. The amount of time needed for community service can range from several hours to months, depending on the severity of the offense.
Sometimes, a judge may order probation or community service instead of jail time. If this is the case, individuals must complete the assigned number of hours and activities, such as clerical work or working with a charity organization.
In cases where a conviction is issued, the court may impose probation instead of or in addition to other penalties. Probation stipulates that an individual must meet certain requirements for a specific period, including travel restrictions, contact with victims or witnesses, and refrain from illegal activities. Violating probation can result in harsher sentences, such as jail time or further fines.
Contact Us Today at Ktenas Law for a Free Consultation!
Society’s laws are complex, and understanding the do’s and don'ts of disorderly conduct can be confusing. Suppose you have been charged with disorderly conduct or are accused of violating local public order regulations. In that case, an experienced criminal defense attorney at Ktenas Law can provide legal advice to help you understand your rights and options.
We specialize in criminal defense matters and offer legal services in cases involving disorderly conduct. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your case and learn how we can help you protect your rights and freedom.