Disorderly conduct is a common misdemeanor charge. It is generally up to the law enforcement officer’s own judgment whether he wants to arrest someone for the charge. Typical disorderly conduct (or disturbing the peace) charges result when the law enforcement officer is angry or frustrated with a situation he has been in where he feels control slipping away. Fortunately, many of these cases are overreactions on the part of law enforcement. They can arise during house calls from allegations of domestic abuse, or venues where alcohol may have been consumed and it is late at night, such as entertainment districts (Westport, or KC Power and Light), or at sporting events where large numbers of people are present.
Still, disorderly conduct laws differ significantly among states and municipalities, and the type of conduct covered by these laws and ordinances is quite broad. Broadly speaking, states and municipalities categorize disorderly conduct as any behavior that is likely to cause other people alarm, anger, annoyance, or an increased likelihood to engage in unlawful activity. Fortunately, disorderly conduct (or, in some jurisdictions, “disturbing the peace”) has a defined element of intent to it. There needs to be some sort of intent to cause the alleged disorderly conduct or disruption. And in many situations, this knowledge or intent (also called “scienter”) is lacking.
Disorderly Conduct, Disturbing the Peace, and Noise Violations
- Fighting, tussling, or other allegedly violent behavior in public or private.
- Excessive noise violations, possibly caused from playing music too loudly, or operating car stereos too loudly.
- Noise violations.
- Inciting or provoking a fight, or attempting to provoke a fight using abusive language or offensive gestures.
- Behavior that attempts to disrupt business or government operations.
- Refusal to leave some area when ordered by a law enforcement officer.
- Alleged “mouthing off” or rowdiness to an officer.
- Engaging in behavior that law enforcement views as as interference in his or her job.
- Recklessly or willfully handling or displaying a deadly weapon or deadly instrument.
Some states and cities prohibit disorderly conduct in a public area, or conduct that disturbs the public order. Other cities and states do not require the behavior to occur in public or affect the public. Public areas include such places as public restroom stalls, carnivals, hospital emergency rooms, and even private buildings available for public rental and entertainment. When the conduct occurs in private, it may satisfy the “public requirement” if there is some spillover effect of the private activity into the public domain. It is not unusual for neighbors or neighborhood members to report each other for this type of violation. But in many cases there is no public requirement. In these situations, it is enough if a private person has been “disrupted” in some objectively unreasonable way.
Disorderly conduct crimes are misdemeanors. For many people, this type of an offense may be their first exposure to the criminal justice system, and the process can be very upsetting and stressful. If you have been charged with a disorderly conduct, noise violation, or peace disturbance charge, contact our office for a free consultation.
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