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What is a Disorderly Conduct Charge?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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A disorderly conduct charge might result from a variety of behaviors that are disruptive to the public in general, or to individuals who complain. This charge is usually a misdemeanor, though it could be treated differently or more harshly if a person has faced similar charges in the past or has an extensive criminal history. The crimes that might result in a disorderly conduct charge are variable and each region’s courts define them separately. Punishment for such a charge is also dependent on jurisdiction and past criminal history, and might range from paying a fine to serving time in jail.

There are a number of actions that may result in a disorderly conduct charge. Though these vary by region, some crimes are predictably classified as disorderly. These include public intoxication, fighting without intent to cause serious physical harm, loitering, violating noise ordinances, rioting, protesting in an illegal manner, and different forms of trespassing.

Committing any one of a more extensive list of behaviors might result in a disorderly conduct charge in certain regions. For example, in California, some additional behaviors that are disorderly are solicitation, peeping tom activities, and begging. Like the crimes listed above, California’s additions are meant to discourage activities that disturb the peace and safety of single individuals, small groups, or the general public. By making these actions crimes, the courts hope to discourage undesirable behaviors.

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Under many circumstances, especially if people face a single and first disorderly conduct charge, sentencing may be light, amounting to little more than a slap on the wrist. A sentence might require people to pay a fine and perform some community service. Sometimes the charges are dismissed at trial, if it can be shown that a behavior like loitering took place innocently.

The situation may change if people have been repeatedly convicted of disorderly conduct in the past. Depending on the region’s laws, judges might seek to discourage the behavior by imposing maximum sentences. Maximum charges for misdemeanors vary, but can sometimes include up to a year or more of jail time, in addition to fines, requirements for community service and probation after a jail sentence is served.

Given the crowding of most prisons, many judges are loath to sentence people to jail for what are usually considered minor offenses. Nevertheless, they can do it. Anyone who has a criminal history and is presently facing a disorderly conduct charge should have knowledgeable legal representation to attempt to avoid stricter sentences. Obtaining competent representation at trial is often advised for anyone facing a misdemeanor charge.

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