What Is Disorderly Conduct?

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 What Is Disorderly Conduct?

Disorderly conduct is a term you might have heard, but what does it really mean? Simply put, it refers to behaviors that disrupt public peace or decorum. This broad definition of disorderly conduct includes a range of actions that might upset the order and tranquility of a public space or community. States and cities have their own laws defining disorderly conduct, so what is considered disorderly in one place might not be in another.

What Are Some Examples of Disorderly Conduct?

To give you a better idea of what disorderly conduct means, let’s explore a few examples:

Loud and Disruptive Behavior

Loud and disruptive behavior is a common form of disorderly conduct. Picture a park where families are enjoying a quiet afternoon. Suddenly, someone starts shouting loudly, perhaps in anger or excitement, disrupting the environment. This behavior can include yelling, playing music at an excessively high volume, or causing a ruckus that disturbs the peace. The key factor is the disruption caused to those around, turning a peaceful setting into a source of discomfort and annoyance.

Public Intoxication

Public intoxication, often linked with disorderly conduct, occurs when someone is visibly drunk or under the influence in a public place. A person might become loud, unruly, or even aggressive, which can lead to disturbances like arguments or unwanted interactions with others. Public intoxication becomes a legal issue when the individual’s actions start impacting the safety and comfort of the public, demonstrating a lack of control over their behavior.

Fighting in Public

Fighting in public is a clear example of disorderly conduct. It involves engaging in a physical altercation or even threatening to start a fight in a public area. This behavior disrupts the peace and poses a safety risk to others. It can create a hostile environment, causing fear or panic among bystanders. The key aspect here is the public nature of the behavior – what might be a private dispute escalates into a public concern, demanding legal attention.

Obstructing Traffic

Obstructing traffic involves deliberately blocking or hindering the normal flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic. This obstruction doesn’t just mean causing a traffic jam; it’s about intentional actions like standing in the middle of a busy street, organizing a protest without proper permits, or creating obstacles on a sidewalk. This behavior can lead to significant safety risks and inconveniences, disrupting the orderly flow of traffic and potentially leading to dangerous situations.

Using Offensive Language or Gestures

Using offensive language or gestures in public is another form of disorderly conduct. This includes shouting profanities, making obscene gestures, or engaging in verbal abuse in a public space. It’s not just about the words or actions themselves but their impact impact they have on others. This behavior can create an uncomfortable or hostile environment, especially in places where people expect a certain level of public decorum, like parks, streets, or public buildings.

What Are Some Penalties for Disorderly Conduct?

The consequences of being found guilty of disorderly conduct can vary. Typically, it’s considered a misdemeanor, but the exact penalties depend on the local laws and the specifics of the incident. Some common penalties include:


When it comes to disorderly conduct, one of the most common penalties imposed is a fine. The amount of the fine can vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the offense. For a minor incident, the fine might be a few hundred dollars. However, more serious cases can attract higher fines, potentially reaching thousands of dollars. The purpose of these fines is not just to punish the offender but also to serve as a deterrent against future disorderly behavior. Failing to pay these fines can lead to further legal consequences.

Community Service

Courts often require individuals convicted of disorderly conduct to perform community service. This penalty involves dedicating a set number of hours to work that benefits the community, like cleaning up public spaces, helping in community centers, or other forms of volunteer work. The number of hours required is typically proportional to the seriousness of the offense. Community service is seen as a way to give back to the community that was disrupted by the individual’s actions and can be a constructive alternative to fines or jail time, especially for first-time offenders.


Probation is another potential penalty for disorderly conduct. This involves a period of supervised behavior where the individual must comply with certain conditions set by the court sets. These conditions might include regular check-ins with a probation officer, refraining from consuming alcohol or drugs, attending counseling sessions, or avoiding certain areas or individuals.

Probation periods can range from several months to a few years. Violating the terms of probation can lead to more serious penalties, including jail time, emphasizing the importance of adhering to these court-imposed conditions.

Jail Time

In more severe cases of disorderly conduct, especially for repeat offenders, jail time can be a consequence. While less common for first-time offenders, those with a history of similar offenses or those involved in particularly egregious acts of disorderly conduct might face incarceration. The length of the jail sentence varies, with some lasting only a few days and others extending to several months or more. This penalty underscores the seriousness with which the legal system treats disruptions to public order and safety.

Jail time is a strong deterrent and a clear message about the consequences of repeated or severe disorderly conduct.

Are There Any Defenses for Disorderly Conduct?

Yes, there are several defenses that might be applicable, depending on the situation:

Freedom of Speech

The U.S. Constitution protects the right to free speech, which includes the freedom to express opinions, even if they are unpopular or controversial. However, this right has its limits, especially when the expression infringes on the rights and safety of others. In disorderly conduct cases, the key question often revolves around whether the individual’s actions went beyond protected speech and crossed into disruptive or threatening behavior.

If it can be demonstrated that the conduct in question was solely the exercise of free speech without any intention to disrupt public peace, it might not be considered disorderly conduct. This defense requires a careful balance between the right to free expression and the need to maintain public order.


Self-defense is another possible defense against charges of disorderly conduct. This defense is applicable when the individual’s actions, which might otherwise be considered disorderly, were in response to an immediate threat to their safety. For example, if someone might have been involved in a public altercation because they were defending themselves from physical harm. If so,, this could be viewed as a justifiable reaction rather than disorderly conduct.

The deciding factor here is proving that the actions were necessary and proportionate to the threat faced. This defense acknowledges that while maintaining public order is important, protecting oneself from harm is a fundamental right.

Lack of Intent

The defense of lack of intent revolves around the idea that the individual did not intend to cause a disturbance or disrupt public order. Intent is a key element in many criminal charges, including disorderly conduct. If a person can demonstrate that their actions, though perhaps misinterpreted as disorderly, were not meant to cause disruption or harm. If that is the case, this might serve as a valid defense.

For instance, someone might have raised their voice in a public place not to cause a disturbance but out of excitement or another benign reason. Proving a lack of intent can be complex and often hinges on the specific circumstances of the incident and the individual’s state of mind.

Mistaken Identity

Mistaken identity is a defense that comes into play when the wrong person is accused of disorderly conduct. This situation can occur in crowded places or when witnesses may not have a clear view of the incident. An individual can prove that they were not the person who engaged in the disorderly behavior. If they do, this defense can lead to the dismissal of charges.

Establishing a case of mistaken identity might involve presenting alibis, eyewitness testimony, or video evidence showing that the accused was not present at the scene or was not involved in the disruptive behavior.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Disorderly Conduct Charges?

Facing disorderly conduct charges can be stressful and confusing, but you have rights and options. A criminal lawyer can help you understand the charges against you, guide you through the legal process, and work to protect your interests. Reach out to a criminal lawyer today for a consultation.

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