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What Is Disorderly Conduct?

Disorderly conduct is a criminal charge in most jurisdictions in the United States and certain other countries. Typically, "disorderly conduct" makes it a crime to be drunk in public, to "disturb the peace", or to loiter in certain areas. Many types of unruly conduct may fit the definition of disorderly conduct, as such statutes are often used as "catch-all" crimes. Police may use a disorderly conduct charge to keep the peace when people are behaving in a disruptive manner to themselves or others, but otherwise, present no danger.

In most jurisdictions, the decision of whether or not the act complained of is disorderly conduct is made by a judge. Following this determination, a jury decides whether or not the accused is guilty of the offense, provided there is a to be decided.The punishment for disorderly conduct is usually fixed by statute. Under most statutes, the penalty consists of a fine, imprisonment, or both. Some statutes provide that an accused cannot be imprisoned for disorderly conduct unless he or she has been given an opportunity to pay a fine and has defaulted on the payment.

The definition of disorderly conduct can vary from state to state. For instance, in some states, mere possession of an open container of alcohol can constitute disorderly conduct. Similarly, the penalties can vary widely and often depend on the exact nature of the conduct. For lesser offenses, a police officer may simply issue a citation requiring the recipient to pay a fine, like a traffic ticket. For more dangerous or disruptive behavior, the police officer may bring the person to the local jail and require someone to bail the person out. If you have more questions about the disorderly conduct, you should check your state’s laws or consult with a local criminal attorney.

Fighting, Assaultive, or Harassing Behavior  

The second type of conduct that could qualify for a disorderly conduct charge is fighting or assaultive behavior. This sub-category could include two men mutually deciding to fight at a bar. It would not ordinarily be an assault because both men consented, but the fight could still be considered disorderly conduct because it involves a fight at a public location. Disorderly conduct in this aspect could also include the use of assaultive type devices. For example, if a person fires a gun in the air, they have not necessarily assaulted someone, but may have done an act to place another in fear. Throwing smoke bombs with obnoxious fumes could also qualify as disorderly conduct, even absent a specific intent to hurt someone. A defendant’s goal to harass or alarm is enough.

What Can You Do?

Ask Them to Stop the Behavior: If the person disturbing you is a neighbor or someone you know, and you don’t feel physically threatened or in potential harm, you can explain to the person that the conduct is problematic and ask him or her to stop. If the situation escalates, you should remove yourself immediately.

Contact the Police: If the behavior continues, or if there’s imminent danger (such as fighting) you may want to contact the police and report the situation. A person who disrupts the peace is often given a fair warning by police. In most cases, police involvement may stop the disruptive behavior altogether.

Contact a Lawyer: Finally, if none of the above actions help your situation, and you suffer an injury as a result, it may be necessary to contact an attorney. In addition to violating criminal laws against disturbing the peace, disruptive behavior may violate nuisance laws, making a civil suit necessary. A restraining order, injunction, or other legal remedies may help you put an end to the disruptive behavior.

For more information, see FindLaw’s section on public safety violations.

Facing Disorderly Conduct Charges? Get a Free Case Evaluation 

Whether you've been accused of disturbing the peace, being drunk in public, or any other behaviors that constitute disruptive behavior, it is important to know the consequences of a plea bargain or criminal conviction. Although these cases rarely rise to the level of felonious conduct, you should understand how pleading guilty or no contest can impact your criminal history. Contact a qualified criminal defense attorney for a free case review to learn more.