Disorderly Conduct Laws and Penalties

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What is Disorderly Conduct?

In an effort to keep communities running smoothly, calmly, and peacefully, states and municipalities have numerous laws that limit what people can do. Whenever people engage in conduct that is likely to cause a disturbance or lead to some sort of non-peaceful event, this behavior is often prosecuted as disorderly conduct, sometimes referred to as “breach of the peace.” Disorderly conduct charges are quite common when rambunctious, and often intoxicated, people gather in groups or engage in outrageous public displays. As you may imagine, disorderly conduct is probably one of the most commonly filed criminal charges in any jurisdiction.

Disorderly Conduct Laws

Disorderly conduct laws differ significantly among states and municipalities, and the type of conduct covered by these laws and ordinances is quite broad. States typically categorize disorderly conduct as any behavior that is likely to cause other people alarm, anger, annoyance, or an increased likelihood to engage in unlawful activity. Let's take a look at what disorderly conduct covers.

  • Circumstances: Many disorderly conduct cases involve behavior that would not otherwise be disorderly if it occurred in a different location or at a different time. For example, someone shouting loudly in a residential neighborhood street late at night is engaging in disorderly conduct, while someone using the exact same language and voice volume in an industrial area in the middle of a weekday is not.
  • Objectivity: When a prosecutor charges someone with disorderly conduct, it isn't always necessary for the prosecution to show that another person was alarmed by the accused's conduct. Courts apply an objective standard when determining disorderly conduct laws. This means that a prosecutor must only show that a reasonable person would have been alarmed by the conduct
  • Location: Some states prohibit disorderly conduct in a public area, or conduct that disturbs the public order, though others do not require the behavior to occur in public or affect the public. Courts have held that public areas include such places as public restroom stalls, carnivals, hospital emergency rooms, and even private buildings available for public rental and entertainment. When the conduct occurs in private, courts have held that any conduct that disturbs others—typically neighbors—satisfies the public requirement. When the law doesn't require a public element, it's enough for the conduct to disrupt or disturb a single person's peace of mind.

Specific Types of Activity

Because of the differences in the laws defining disorderly conduct, what constitutes such conduct in one state may not count as disorderly in another. However, a range of behaviors often qualifies as disorderly conduct, regardless of the state or municipality in which it occurs.

  • Fighting: Many states and city prosecutors punish fighting, brawling, or physical scuffles as disorderly conduct, even though more serious charges of assault or battery may apply. However, the circumstances of each case often determine whether a prosecutor charges the accused with assault, battery, disorderly conduct, or more serious charges.
  • Protests: While engaging in peaceful protests is a constitutionally protected right, engaging in disruptive protests is not. For example, courts have held that participants in a sit-in demonstration engaged in disorderly conduct because they blocked traffic on a pedestrian walkway.
  • Disturbing an assembly: Interrupting a city council meeting, a public rally, or religious ceremony can be enough to qualify as disorderly conduct.
  • Public misconduct: Engaging in what is normally private conduct in a public place is often charged as disorderly conduct. Public urination, public masturbation, and public intoxication can constitute disorderly conduct.
  • Police encounters: Many disorderly conduct charges arise from encounters people have with the police. For example, while arguing with a police officer does not count as disorderly conduct, arguing with police while engaging in threatening conduct or using any type of physical contact does. A person who fails to comply with a police order to move away from a public area also doesn't typically engage in disorderly conduct, unless the police officer issued the order in a situation where crowd control was an issue.

Disorderly Conduct Penalties

Disorderly conduct is almost always punished as a misdemeanor offense, though it qualifies as a felony in certain circumstances, such as when a person makes a false report of a fire. State laws differ in the potential penalties involved for a conviction of disorderly conduct, but they typically include one or more of the following:

  • Jail: Jail time for a conviction of disorderly conduct is typically short, though state laws can allow for up to a year for a misdemeanor conviction. While many disorderly conduct convictions involve no jail time, especially for first-time offenders, courts often suspend a jail sentence or order a person to “time served,” meaning the jail sentence is satisfied by the time the person already spent in jail after the initial arrest. For repeat offenders or more serious instances of disorderly conduct, short jail terms of several days, weeks, or even months are possible. Felony convictions bring with them the possibility of a year or more in state prison.
  • Fines: Fines are a very common punishment for disorderly conduct convictions. Fines range widely, from as little as $25, to $1,000 or more. In many situations, courts impose a fine instead of jail or probation, though a fine may also be included with any jail or probation sentence.
  • Probation: Probation sentences are a common sentence for disorderly conduct charges. A court can sentence a person convicted of disorderly conduct to several months or more of probation. If the person violates probation by, for example, committing another act of disorderly conduct, the court will likely impose a more significant penalty, such as a jail term or a higher fine.

Disorderly Conduct Laws by State

Consult the chart below to get state specific information for disorderly conduct laws and penalties. Click the link to your state to get comprehensive information.

State

Penalties At-A-Glance

Disorderly conduct is a class C misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $500, up to three months in jail, or both.
Alaska Disorderly conduct is a class B misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to 90 days in jail, or both.
Arizona
Disorderly conduct is a class 1 misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $2,500, up to six months in jail, or both. However, recklessly handling, displaying, or discharging a deadly weapon or instrument is a class 6 felony, which incurs at least one (and up to two) years in prison.
Arkansas Disorderly conduct is a class C misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, or both.
California Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both. Increased penalties may apply to second and subsequent convictions.
Colorado Disorderly conduct is a class 1 petty offense, and penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both. Increased penalties may apply to second and subsequent convictions. Penalties increase if the conduct disrupted a funeral.
Connecticut Disorderly conduct is a class C misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $500, up to three months in jail, or both.
Delaware Disorderly conduct is an unclassified misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $575, up to 30 days in jail, or both.
D.C. Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $500, up to 90 days in jail, or both.
Florida In Florida, disorderly conduct is a second degree misdemeanor. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
Georgia In Georgia, disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
Hawaii In Hawaii, disorderly conduct is a violation and, like a traffic ticket, may incur a fine but not jail time. However, more violent or disruptive disorderly conduct, like failure to disperse, is a misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
Idaho In Idaho, disturbing the peace is a misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both.
In Illinois, penalties for disorderly conduct vary according to the severity of the offensive conduct. They may include as little as a fine of up to $1,500, up to 30 days in jail and up to two years' probation, or both; or as much as a fine of up to $2,500, and up to ten years in prison
Indiana In Indiana, disorderly conduct is a Class B misdemeanor. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both.
Iowa Disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly, and failure to disperse are simple misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of $65 to $625, or both.
Kansas Disorderly conduct is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to one month in jail and a fine of up to $500. Participating in a riot, failure to disperse, and false alarm are all class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Kentucky Disorderly conduct and failure to disperse are Class B misdemeanors, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $250.
Louisiana Picketing a funeral is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Other kinds of disturbing the peace are punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to $100, or both.
Maine Disorderly conduct is a Class E crime, punishable by up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Unlawful assembly and obstructing a road or sidewalk are also Class E crimes
Maryland Disturbing the peace is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Unlawful picketing or assembly is punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a fine up to $100, or both.
Massachusetts Disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace are punishable by a fine of no more than $150. Second and subsequent convictions are punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $200, or both.
Michigan Being a disorderly person is punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Funeral picketing is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
Minnesota Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine up to $1,000, or both. Disorderly conduct by a caregiver of a vulnerable adult is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of not more than $3,000, or both.
Mississippi Disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace crimes are punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Missouri Disturbing the peace and disturbing worship are Class B misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500. Second and subsequent offenses are punished more severely.
Falsely reporting a bomb is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Other kinds of disorderly conduct and failure to disperse are punishable by up to ten days in jail or a fine of up to $100, or both.
Nebraska Disturbing the peace is a Class III misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months in jail, a fine up to $500, or both. Funeral picketing is also a Class III misdemeanor.
Nevada Breach of the peace, participating in a riot, unlawful assembly, refusing to leave a public building and similar crimes are also misdemeanors. In Nevada, misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine up to $1,000, or both
New Hampshire Disorderly conduct is a violation, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, unless the person has been asked by anyone to stop, in which case the crime is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,000.
New Jersey Disorderly conduct crimes are either disorderly persons offenses (punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $1,000) or petty disorderly persons offenses (punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500). For smoking in public, the maximum fine is $200.
New Mexico Disorderly conduct, including interfering with a state building or an athletic event and unlawful assembly are petty misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine up to $500, or both. Public affray is also a petty misdemeanor. 
New York Disorderly conduct is a violation. Violations do not result in criminal records, but they are punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a fine.
North Carolina Disorderly conduct is a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum possible term of 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
North Dakota Disorderly conduct is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Disorderly conduct at a funeral is also a class B misdemeanor, but second or subsequent violations are class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum of $2,000 in fines.
Ohio Disorderly conduct is a minor misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $150. Aggravated disorderly conduct or disturbing a lawful meeting is a misdemeanor in the fourth degree, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $250.
Oklahoma Disturbing the peace is a misdemeanor. Unless another sentence is specified, misdemeanors in Oklahoma are punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.
Oregon Disorderly conduct is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and up to $2,500 in fines. Disorderly conduct at a funeral and calling in a false report of an emergency at a school are Class A misdemeanors.
Pennsylvania Disorderly conduct, obstructing a road or sidewalk, refusing to move, and disrupting a meeting are summary offenses in Pennsylvania (punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $500), or misdemeanors of the third degree (punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500).
Disorderly conduct is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Disrupting a public assembly is punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $500.
South Carolina Under South Carolina law, public disorderly conduct and disturbing religious worship are misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of not more than $100 and a jail term of not more than 30 days.
South Dakota Like most states, South Dakota treats public intoxication as a public health problem. Public intoxication is not a crime, but a person who is drunk in public and poses a danger to anyone can be taken into protective custody and held at a treatment center. 
Tennessee Disorderly conduct, public intoxication, and blocking a road or sidewalk are Class C misdemeanors, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $50, or both. Disrupting a meeting is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.
Texas Discharging a firearm in public (but not on or across a public road) and displaying a firearm are Class C misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $500 but no jail time. Other types of disorderly conduct (including discharging a firearm on a public road) are Class B misdemeanors.
Utah Disorderly conduct is a class C misdemeanor (punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750) if the offense continues after someone has requested that the defendant stop doing whatever he or she is doing. Otherwise, it is an infraction. 
Vermont Disorderly conduct is punishable by up to 60 days in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Making noise at night is punishable by a fine of up to $50. Rioting is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $100, or both.
Virginia Disorderly conduct is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both. The punishment for obstruction ranges from a fine of up to $500 to up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Washington Disorderly conduct, including funeral picketing, failure to disperse, and drinking on a public transit vehicle are misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, up to 90 days in jail, or both.
West Virginia Disorderly conduct is punishable by up to 24 hours in jail, or a fine of up to $100. Disturbing religious worship is punishable by as much as six months in jail and a fine of $25 to $100. Disturbing a school, meeting, or celebration is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $10 to $50
Wisconsin Disorderly conduct is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Unlawful assembly is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 9 months in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both jail and a fine.
Wyoming Breach of the peace, funeral picketing, and fighting in public are all punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $750, or both.

Legal Advice

Disorderly conduct may seem like a minor charge, but it can have serious consequences on a person's life. If you've been charged with disorderly conduct, it's important to speak to a qualified attorney in your area. Only an attorney who has experience with the local courts, police, and laws is qualified to provide you legal advice about the charges you face.

Last updated 10/21/14

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