Disorderly conduct is an umbrella term used to describe crimes that are considered to be obnoxious or annoying. The behavior described by the term generally causes some type of public disturbance, such as public urination or peeping into someone’s window. Disorderly conduct is done in a public area, and creates a threat or disturbance to other people in that area.

Each state has its own laws regarding what specific actions would constitute disorderly conduct. An example of this would be how some states require intent, while others say that reckless behavior without intent can also result in a disorderly conduct charge. While many disorderly conduct crimes do occur while the perpetrator is intoxicated, this is not generally a necessary element of the crime.

It is important to be aware of what actions would constitute disorderly conduct in your specific state, as well as what will happen if you are charged with this crime. Punishments for disorderly conduct will vary, and you may be able to remove the charge from your record. This will be further discussed later on.

What Are Some Common Examples Of Disorderly Conduct?

There are many different actions that can qualify as disorderly conduct as it is essentially a catch-all crime. It is common for this charge to be given when the action does not fit into the elements of another crime. Some common examples of actions that would generally reach the minimum standard of disorderly conduct include, but may not be limited to:

  • Being loud in public while intoxicated;
  • Violating noise ordinances;
  • Disturbing the peace;
  • Exhibiting reckless behavior in a crowded area;
  • Public drunkenness;
  • Any behavior that compromises public safety;
  • Loitering;
  • Begging in public; and
  • Disturbing a religious ceremony.

Some actions that are more obviously disorderly conduct can tip over into a more serious crime. An example of this would be how fighting can lead to charges of disorderly conduct in several states. However, fighting could also result in charges of assault or battery, depending on the circumstances.

Generally speaking, disorderly conduct crimes are considered to be misdemeanors, unless your state has felony exceptions. An example of this would be how some states consider false fire reports or harassment at a funeral to be felony disorderly conduct. Additionally, crimes that do not fit into one particular criminal category may be charged as disorderly conduct.

What Are The Legal Penalties For A Disorderly Conduct Charge?

The legal penalties for a disorderly conduct charge will depend on the severity of your actions as well as local law. You may simply receive a ticket for disorderly conduct, or you may be arrested. Should you be arrested, you will be booked and must be bailed out. However, it is possible that you may be released at the station without needing to post bail. If you must pay bail and do not, you will likely wait in jail until your trial.

Once you have been charged with disorderly conduct, whether through a citation or arrest, you must appear in court to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you were arrested and plead not guilty, the court will determine whether you can be released, or will remain in jail. To reiterate, either bail will be set or the court will release you on the condition that you will appear for future court dates. This is known as release on recognizance.

From there you will need to consult with your criminal defense lawyer in order to discuss your options and to formulate a plan. This can include attempting to get the charges dropped, negotiating a plea deal, and/or proceeding to trial.

On its own, disorderly conduct can be a relatively minor crime, sometimes leading to a citation or a small fine. However, some disorderly conduct cases can create major legal issues, especially if:

  • The disorderly conduct involved alcohol or public drunkenness, especially for repeated or habitual behavior;
  • The conduct resulted in serious injury and/or harm to another person; and/or
  • The defendant caused major property damage during their disorderly conduct.

Penalties may include more serious criminal charges if it is a second or third offense for disorderly conduct, as repeat offenders and habitual offenders are subject to higher fines and possible jail time for an extended period of time. Additionally, disorderly conduct is often a factor in cases involving multiple charges. An example of this would be how a person who was caught stealing may also be charged with disorderly conduct associated with when they were fleeing.

Simply put, there are a wide range of punishments you may face for disorderly conduct. Examples include, but may not be limited to:

  • A criminal fine;
  • Probation;
  • Community service;
  • Drug testing;
  • Alcohol education;
  • Court ordered counseling; and/or
  • Jail time of up to one year.

Are There Any Defenses To a Disorderly Conduct Charge?

Defenses available to a disorderly conduct charge often mirror those of misdemeanor defenses. This may include:

  • Intoxication: Involuntary intoxication occurs when a defendant becomes intoxicated against their will, such as being drugged, and is a defense to crimes requiring specific intent. If involuntary intoxication makes it impossible to avoid committing the action, a defendant can assert involuntary intoxication. Voluntary intoxication is a defense to a specific intent crime, and may prevent a defendant from forming the intent required to commit the crime;
  • Mistake of Fact: Under mistake of fact, a defendant is mistaken about the existence of a fact needed to prove the crime. An example of this would be how the crime of larceny requires a defendant to take the property of a victim, intending to permanently deprive the victim of their property. If the defendant has a reasonable belief that the property was the defendant’s, and not the victim’s, the defendant did not intend to permanently deprive the victim of their property;
  • Self Defense: This defense allows a defendant to use a reasonable amount of force to prevent an imminent threat of violence by another person. Under this defense, the defendant may only use an amount that is proportionate to the threat level posed by the aggressor;
  • Duress: This is when a defendant faces an immediate threat of injury, and will be injured unless they commit a specific crime. They have no opportunity to avoid the threat, except by committing the crime;
  • Imperfect Self Defense: The defendant has a sincere belief that force is necessary to prevent injury; however, that belief is unreasonable. An example of this would be if the defendant thinks someone is about to strike them; and/or
  • Necessity: A defendant may plead necessity when they commit an act that is a crime, in order to prevent an even greater crime from occurring. The defendant may also plead the necessity defense when their act was necessary to address an emergency situation.

Do I Need An Attorney For Disorderly Conduct?

If you are facing disorderly conduct charges, you should consult with an experienced and local criminal defense lawyer. An attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your rights and legal options according to your state’s specific laws regarding disorderly conduct.

Your criminal defense attorney can also assist you in gathering evidence to support your case, and inform you of any potential legal defenses that you may be able to use in court. Additionally, your attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.