What is Disorderly Conduct?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Public intoxication may result in a disorderly conduct charge.
Public intoxication may result in a disorderly conduct charge.

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.

Law enforcement officers can stop and ticket people who are behaving disruptively.
Law enforcement officers can stop and ticket people who are behaving disruptively.

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.

Street fights are a common cause of disorderly conduct charges.
Street fights are a common cause of disorderly conduct charges.

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.

People engaging in disorderly conduct may face arrest.
People engaging in disorderly conduct may face arrest.

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.

Loitering is one form of disorderly conduct.
Loitering is one form of disorderly conduct.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

tolleranza

@geekish - Actually by definition disorderly conduct is a minor offense; however, I think good penalties are usually in place so that the person who is receiving the penalty does not feel like it is a light penalty. The penalty is determined by state statute but usually consists of both a fine and prison sentence, just a fine, or just a prison sentence.

But since it is a minor offense then I would imagine that it would not be a long prison sentence.

geekish

I have actually heard of disorderly conduct charges stemming from an altercation that occurred at an elementary school between a parent and a student! Luckily it was during and after school meeting so all the students had gone home.

I don't remember why it happened but I was trying to figure out what type of disorderly conduct penalties the parent might have incurred for trying to strangle the teacher. Can you receive just a warning for first offense or are these offenses taken strongly in the sense of penalties?

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