Disorderly conduct is a charge which is used as a form of catch-all for generally disruptive behaviors which may not necessarily be specifically illegal under other areas of the penal code. People charged with this offense can choose not to contest it and pay a fine, or they can attend court and fight the charge. In court, a jury will decide if the person committed the action in question and the judge will decide whether or not it constitutes disorderly behavior. The punishment is usually a fine, although people may also be imprisoned.
Actions which disturb public peace, threaten public health or safety, or result in moral upset may be considered disorderly conduct. Law enforcement officers can stop and ticket people who are behaving disruptively, and they may also opt to detain them if they become a threat to the public or themselves. For example, someone may be publicly drunk, which is a nuisance, and also at risk of injury as a result of public drunkenness.
Some examples of disorderly conduct include making loud noises, fighting in the streets, using obscene language in a public space, loitering, and vagrancy. Preventing people from passing among a sidewalk and approaching people on public transit or in public spaces and refusing to leave them alone, may also fall under this offense. These activities may not be specifically illegal, but they can be disruptive, and thus the police may opt to charge the offender with disorderly conduct. It is also possible to plea down to this charge from another charge.
Many regions of the world have a law which penalizes disorderly conduct. People are usually subject to fines, and jail time if they cannot or will not pay the fine. Judges may also opt to sentence people to community service, especially if they are young offenders. Repeated charges of this nature on someone's criminal record may be considered during sentencing if that person is brought up on more serious charges and convicted.
There are some distinctions between disorderly conduct and other types of activities. For example, a permitted political protest is not disorderly conduct even though it may involve loud noises and blocked streets. If marchers break off from the protest and follow a different route, however, they can be charged with being disorderly because they are longer acting within the bounds of their permit. Likewise, a spontaneous demonstration can result in charges related to disturbing the peace because the demonstrators have not received permission.