Penalties for Disorderly Conduct
Disorderly conduct is a common charge that police officers use as a “catch-all” for inappropriate or disruptive behavior. While it may seem like a minor offense, disorderly conduct charges can have serious legal consequences if you are convicted. This article will provide an overview of disorderly conduct laws and the typical penalties you may face if charged and convicted.
What is Disorderly Conduct?
Disorderly conduct laws prohibit actions that disturb the peace and tranquility of a community. These laws vary by state, but generally prohibit things like:
- Fighting, violent behavior, or causing a disturbance
- Making unreasonable noise
- Using offensive language or obscene gestures
- Refusing to obey a lawful order from police
- Recklessly displaying or discharging a firearm or weapon
Police have a lot of discretion when charging disorderly conduct. The laws are broad, so even minor confrontations or arguments in public could lead to an arrest. Disorderly conduct charges are very common in cases involving public intoxication or domestic disputes.
Disorderly Conduct Penalties
Disorderly conduct charges can either be misdemeanors or felonies, depending on your state law and the circumstances of the case.
Misdemeanor Disorderly Conduct
A misdemeanor disorderly conduct conviction typically carries:
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Fines up to $1,000 or more
But sentences on the lower end are more common for minor incidents that don’t involve injuries, weapons, or other aggravating factors. Many first-time offenders may just receive a fine or probation.
However, the maximum penalties allowed under law can still be imposed if the judge wants to “make an example” out of you. And a disorderly conduct conviction will still show up on a criminal background check, which can hurt job and other prospects.
Felony Disorderly Conduct
Disorderly conduct becomes a felony in some states if it involves reckless use of a deadly weapon or serious injuries. Felony convictions can lead to:
- At least 1 year in state prison
- Fines up to $10,000 or more
Like misdemeanors, sentences on the lower end are more common. But felonies are considered much more serious and can haunt you for life.
Certain circumstances can increase the penalties you face for disorderly conduct:
Injuries – Penalties will be harsher if your actions caused injury to another person. Even minor scrapes or bruises can lead to increased fines or jail time.
Weapons – Displaying, threatening with, or improperly discharging a firearm or other weapon will make the offense more serious. In some states this automatically makes it a felony.
Prior Record – If you have prior convictions for disorderly conduct or other crimes, judges will often impose the maximum penalty allowed. Repeat offenses show you didn’t learn your lesson.
Domestic Violence – Disorderly conduct involving family members may be charged as domestic violence. This typically means additional penalties, counseling requirements, and loss of gun ownership rights.
Property Damage – Damaging or destroying property during the incident could mean the court orders you to pay restitution to victims in addition to fines and jail time.
Resisting Arrest – Fighting with police officers or resisting arrest along with disorderly conduct will lead to additional charges and increased penalties.
Public Events – Engaging in disorderly conduct at large public events often results in harsher punishment because it threatens public safety.
Vulnerable Victims – Elderly, disabled, or child victims could also prompt prosecutors to seek the maximum penalties allowed by law.
Defending Against Charges
The broad nature of disorderly conduct laws means police have a lot of leeway when making arrests. But in many cases, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can get charges reduced or dismissed. Common defense strategies include:
- Lack of Criminal Intent – Argue you didn’t intend to disturb the peace or act with reckless disregard. It was an accident or misunderstanding.
- Self-Defense – Argue your actions were legally justified to protect yourself or others from harm.
- False Accusations – Challenge the credibility and motives of the witnesses or accusers.
- Illegal Arrest – Seek to get evidence and charges thrown out by showing your arrest violated your rights.
- Mental Health Issues – Raise mental health problems like PTSD, addiction, or disorders that help explain your actions.
- Plea Bargains – Negotiate with prosecutors to get charges reduced or dropped in exchange for a guilty plea on lesser charges.
- Diversion Programs – First-time offenders may be eligible for programs that dismiss charges after completing classes, community service, or other requirements.
Don’t just plead guilty and accept the maximum penalties. An experienced lawyer may be able to negotiate a better outcome or even get charges dismissed. But you need to act fast, because these options fade as your case progresses.