A crime against public order, also known as a public safety crime, is a violation which interferes with the normal operations of society. These crimes go against areas of values, norms, or customs, which are shared by the public as a whole.

Public order crimes do not require identifiable victims. An individual may be charged with a public order crime if their actions or conduct are considered to be harmful to society.

A public order crime charge primarily focuses on the offensive conduct. Examples of public order crimes are generally similar in every state, but there may be local jurisdictions with different or additional rules.

Crimes against public order are used to accomplish two general aims. First, they typically seek to prevent individuals from engaging in conduct which is deemed dangerous to the local community. An example of this may include an anti-firework law. 

Second, a crime against public order can be used to protect certain specific sectors of the public. This may include laws such as teen curfews.

What are Some Examples of Crimes against Public Order?

There are numerous examples of crimes against public order. The definition of a crime against public order may seem vague and difficult to understand, so it is helpful to review some examples. 

Some of the most common examples of crimes against public order include:

Disorderly conduct is a crime against public order that is commonly charged, and can encompass a variety of actions by the defendant, including public urination and peeping into an individual’s window. 

Disorderly conduct is typically considered a catch-all charge for behaviors which are considered obnoxious or annoying. These behaviors will generally cause some form of a public disturbance.

What actions are classified as disorderly conduct will vary by state. For example, certain states require proof of intent, which in other states, reckless behavior may lead to a disorderly conduct charge. 

Although many disorderly conduct charges are associated with behaviors a defendant exhibits while being intoxicated, intoxication is not usually a necessary element of the charge.

It is important to be aware of what behaviors constitute disorderly conduct in an individual’s state and what the legal consequences will be if they are charged with this type of crime. The punishments for disorderly conduct may vary and it may be possible to have the conviction expunged from an individual’s record.

A probation sentence is a common sentence for a disorderly conduct charge. The court may sentence a defendant who was convicted of disorderly conduct to several months or more of probation.

If the defendant later violates probation, the court will likely impose a more significant penalty, which may include a jail term or a higher fine. A probation violation may include committing another act of disorderly conduct or another type of crime.

A public order crime is based on societal norms. Because of this, the definition may vary by community. 

In some jurisdictions, a public order crime may or may not include the following offenses:

It is important to note that the laws governing disorderly conduct differ significantly across states and municipalities. In addition, the types of actions that these laws and ordinances govern are quite broad.

Most states categorize disorderly conduct as behaviors which are likely to cause other individuals:

  • Alarm;
  • Anger;
  • Annoyance; or
  • An increased likelihood they will engage in unlawful activity.

Many disorderly conduct charges involve actions which would not be considered disorderly if they occurred in a different location or at a different time. For example, if an individual is shouting loudly in a residential neighborhood late at night, they are likely engaging in disorderly conduct. However, if an individual were behaving in the same manner, in an industrial area on a weekday, it would not be considered disorderly conduct.

It is important to note that when an individual is charged with disorderly conduct, the prosecution is not always required to show that another individual was alarmed by the defendant’s conduct. A court will apply an objective standard when determining whether an offense is disorderly conduct. This means that the prosecution must only show that a reasonable person would have been alarmed by the defendant’s conduct.

Another factor that may cause a behavior to be considered disorderly conduct is the location. There are some states which prohibit disorderly conduct in public areas. 

Some states do not require the behavior to occur in public or that the behavior affects the public. Courts have held that public areas include:

  • Public restroom stalls;
  • Carnivals;
  • Hospital emergency rooms; and
  • Private buildings which are available for public rental and entertainment.

If the conduct occurs in private, if it disturbs other individuals, usually neighbors, it satisfies the public requirement. If the law does not require a public element, it is enough when the conduct disrupts or disturbs a single individual’s peace of mind.

What are the Legal Consequences of Public Order Crimes?

The legal penalties associated with a public order crime will vary depending on the charge. The punishment for public order crimes are typically split into two categories, including minor crimes and serious crimes.

A minor public order crime may include a charge such as disorderly conduct. Punishment for this type of offense will likely only result in misdemeanor charges or a citation. In these cases, the offender may only be required to pay a small criminal fine or to serve a short jail sentence.

Serious crimes, on the other hand, such as drug crimes, may result in felony charges. If a defendant is convicted of a serious crime, they may be required to pay a higher monetary fine or to serve a longer prison sentence. 

In addition, a repeat offender may face harsher penalties. If a repeat offender is charged with a misdemeanor, it may be elevated to a felony based upon their prior criminal record.

Are There Any Defenses to Crimes against Public Order?

The majority of the typical criminal defenses will apply to crimes against public order. These defenses may include:

It is important to note that, in general, these defenses will not completely excuse a defendant from criminal liability. They will only serve to reduce the sentence or punishment ordered for the defendant.

Should I Get an Attorney?

It is essential to have the assistance of a criminal defense attorney if you are facing a charge of a crime against public order. Although these charges may not seem serious, they may have severe legal consequences, even if there was not a victim involved in the offense.

Your attorney can advise you of the laws which apply in your jurisdiction as well as any defenses which may be available to you. As previously noted, multiple criminal convictions can cause harsher punishments for a defendant in the future, so having an attorney is of the utmost importance.

Your attorney will represent you any time you are required to appear in court. Your attorney may also be able to negotiate with the prosecution to reduce the charges or enter into a plea bargain.