Disorderly conduct is a crime whose definition usually comprises a variety of different actions, which may range from making obscene gestures in public to peering into the window of another person’s home. It is generally viewed as a catch-all charge for actions that are considered to be obnoxious or annoying, as the behavior causes some type of public disturbance. However, disorderly conduct is far from the most serious of crimes.
Every state maintains its own laws that define disorderly conduct. An example of this would be the fact that some states require intent for the crime to be considered disorderly conduct. In contrast, others have determined that reckless behavior without specific intent may also result in a disorderly conduct charge. Although many disorderly conduct crimes occur while someone is intoxicated, this is generally not a necessary element of the crime.
A person would have to look to the specific law of their own state to learn what conduct constitutes disorderly conduct. Additionally, they would need to consider the possible punishments if a person is convicted of this crime.
However, some common examples of disorderly conduct generally involve unruly behavior, such as the following:
- Being drunk in public;
- Being loud in public while also being intoxicated;
- Violating noise ordinances;
- Begging in public;
- Disturbing a religious ceremony;
- Loitering in specific areas, such as on a street corner or in front of a store;
- Disturbing the peace;
- Provoking others in a threatening manner; and
- Behaving in an overall disruptive manner.
To reiterate what is stated above, there are many different actions that may qualify as disorderly conduct. It is not uncommon for this charge to be made when the action does not fit into the elements of another, more specific crime.
Alternatively, some actions are more clearly disorderly conduct and can be considered a more serious crime. An example of this would be physical fighting, which can lead to charges of disorderly conduct in several states. However, a fight may also result in charges of assault or battery for the combatants, depending on local laws and the seriousness of the conduct that brings law enforcement to the crime scene.
Is Disorderly Conduct A Misdemeanor or a Felony?
In most states, conviction of a charge of disorderly conduct results in the imposition of criminal punishment. As noted above, the conduct that is considered disorderly conduct depends on the definition of the crime in the penal code of the state in which the crime is committed.
Additionally, it is important to note that the crime of disorderly conduct is usually charged as a misdemeanor unless the state has specific provisions in its law that allow it to be charged as a felony. An example of this would be the fact that the law in some states characterizes false fire reports or harassment at a funeral as felony disorderly conduct.
A misdemeanor crime is a specific type of criminal offense that is more serious than a citation or violation but less serious than a felony. In most states, the defining characteristic of a misdemeanor is that it is generally punishable by a sentence of jail time of a maximum of 1 year in a county jail. This disorderly conduct jail time would not be served in a state prison facility, a punishment that is usually reserved for felony charges.
Generally speaking, a felony is defined as any criminal offense that may be punished by a term of imprisonment in a state or federal prison for 1 year or longer. Felonies tend to be crimes that are considered to be harmful or dangerous to society. They include some of the most serious crimes that a person can commit, such as first-degree murder, rape, and arson.
What Are the Penalties for Disorderly Conduct?
Penalties for disorderly conduct vary greatly according to many different factors. Depending on the severity of a person’s actions as well as local law, a person may simply receive a ticket for disorderly conduct. Alternatively, a person may be arrested, in which case, they would be booked and required to post bail to get out of jail.
After a person has been charged with disorderly conduct, whether through a citation or arrest, they must appear in court for an arraignment so that they can enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If they are arrested and plead not guilty, the court determines whether the person can remain out of jail on bail pending trial. Or, a court can release a person on the condition that they promise to appear for future court dates or released on their own recognizance.
For less serious violations, disorderly conduct charges can result in a simple citation, which may be punished by the payment of a small disorderly conduct fine. Other disorderly conduct cases may lead to misdemeanor charges accompanied by time in jail and/or payment of a fine. Or a court might offer alternative sentences such as community service time.
As previously mentioned, in very specific cases, disorderly conduct can result in a felony charge, e.g., if the disorderly conduct was committed in an airport. Penalties for felony disorderly conduct charges can include more than 1 year in prison and increased monetary fines.
Can Disorderly Conduct Penalties Be Reduced?
Disorderly conduct charges may be reduced if the prosecuting authority in a state chooses to reduce the charge to a lesser included offense. The prosecution might decide to do this as a result of plea negotiations with a defendant. In this way, a disorderly conduct sentence could be reduced in severity.
The prosecution might be persuaded that the alleged perpetrator’s actions are less culpable than those of other alleged perpetrators who have been charged with the same offense. For this reason, the prosecution might choose to allow a perpetrator to plead guilty to a lesser offense.
Another possibility is that a person convicted of disorderly conduct can be subjected to punishment that covers a range of possibilities. For example, disorderly conduct in New York State is classified as a violation and not a misdemeanor or felony criminal offense.
As a violation, it is considered a less serious offense than a misdemeanor or felony, and a conviction for disorderly conduct does not result in a criminal record. So, the crime of disorderly conduct in New York is similar to a traffic violation.
In New York State, the crime of disorderly conduct is defined as fighting or engaging in violent, threatening conduct. Conversely, disorderly conduct is making an unreasonable amount of noise or using abusive or obscene language or gestures in public. Obstructing traffic, both motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic is also disorderly conduct in New York.
A person convicted of disorderly conduct in New York may be sentenced to payment of a fine of up to $250, a maximum of 15 days in jail, a “surcharge” of $120 in City Court, or a “surcharge” of $125 in a Town Court, and/or a 1-year conditional discharge.
A judge may believe that the facts indicate that a particular alleged perpetrator is less culpable than other perpetrators of the same violation that have come before the judge for sentencing. The judge might then sentence the defendant to a minimal fine only, no time in jail, and no conditional discharge.
This is because sentencing for disorderly conduct charges may allow the judge the discretion to choose a punishment that is a range of possible amounts or a range of a possible number of days in prison. The judge is legally able to choose to reduce punishments to a minimum if the judge believes that a minimum punishment is appropriate in the case.
Once a person has been convicted of disorderly conduct, the crime may remain on their criminal public record, but this depends on their state’s specific laws. As noted above, in New York State, the crime is a violation, and conviction does not appear on a person’s criminal record.
In many states, even if a conviction does appear on a person’s criminal record, they may be able to have it expunged. In terms of expungement, it is generally easier to have a simple misdemeanor conviction expunged than it is to obtain a felony expungement. Additionally, in certain jurisdictions, some felonies cannot be expunged at all.
In some states, disorderly conduct charges may simply expire and automatically be removed from a person’s record. However, other states will require a person to petition for expungement.
An example of this would be Pennsylvania, where a person can get a single offense of disorderly conduct expunged from their criminal record five years after their conviction. To do so, a person would need to file a petition with the court asking for expungement.
Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer for My Disorderly Conduct Charge?
If you have been charged with disorderly conduct, you want to consult a criminal defense lawyer.
LegalMatch.com can quickly connect you to an experienced lawyer who can work to get your charge reduced and possibly keep any conviction off your criminal record. Any criminal conviction on your criminal record can have potentially negative consequences, so a person wants to be represented by a qualified lawyer to minimize future problems.