Under Michigan’s laws, it is a crime to be a “disorderly person.” Being a disorderly person, sometimes called disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace, can mean a lot of different things, from picketing funerals to fighting in bars. What all kinds of disorderly conduct have in common is that they are behaviors that are likely to upset, anger, or annoy others.
For more general information on the crime of disorderly conduct, see Disorderly Conduct Laws and Penalties.
In Michigan, it is a crime to be a “disorderly person.” Michigan’s disorderly person law is similar to an old-fashioned vagrancy law and includes a prohibition against vagrants (people who wander from place to place without visible means of support). Historically, vagrancy laws criminalized a broad range of conduct, and states used vagrancy laws to arrest, prosecute, and harass homeless people and poor people who were suspected of criminal activity or considered undesirable.
For more information, see our article on Vagrancy.
Under Michigan’s law, the term “disorderly person” covers a broad range of undesirable behavior, including:
- being able-bodied but failing to support your family
- being a prostitute or “loitering” (hanging out) in places of prostitution
- being a “Peeping Tom”
- engaging in an illegal business or profession (such as illegal gambling)
- loitering in places where illegal business is transacted
- being intoxicated in public and disturbing others or endangering people or property
- engaging in indecent or obscene conduct in public (such as nudity or sexual acts)
- being a vagrant
- loitering at police stations, jails, hospitals, or courthouses, soliciting work as an attorney or bail bond, and
- unnecessarily jostling or crowding others in public places.
For example, a person in Michigan who is hanging out near a bus station where people sell drugs could be arrested and prosecuted as a disorderly person, as could someone who urinates on the sidewalk of a busy street. (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.167.)
Michigan’s disorderly person law criminalizes being a prostitute, rather than engaging in prostitution. Laws that prohibit being something, rather than doing something, are called status crimes. Of course, engaging in prostitution is also a crime in Michigan.
For more information on prostitution and related crimes, see Prostitution, Pimping, and Pandering Laws in Michigan.
In Michigan, public intoxication is not a crime unless it is accompanied by a public disturbance. For example, a person who is drunk and gets into a fight or threatens someone in a bar would probably be considered a disorderly person. However, any person who is intoxicated in public in Michigan, even one who does not disturb others, can be taken into protective custody by police and held, usually in a jail, for up to eight hours.
For more information, see Michigan Public Intoxication Laws.
In 2012, a section of the disorderly person law that prohibited begging or panhandling in public was struck down after the court found that it was so broad and vague that it infringed on the defendant’s federal constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment. (Speet v. Schuette, 889 F.Supp.2d 969 (W.D. Mich. 2012).)
Like many states, Michigan’s lawmakers have also made it a crime to disrupt a funeral, memorial service, or burial; or intimidate or harass mourners attending such a service. This law was enacted to prohibit extremist and hate groups from picketing funerals.
(Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.167d.)
Riot and Unlawful Assembly
Under Michigan’s laws, it is a crime to participate in a riot (five or more people, acting together to engage in violent conduct and cause or risk alarming the public) or an unlawful assembly (a gathering or four or more people coming together with the intent to riot). It is also a crime to incite (urge others to participate in) a riot, or refuse to follow an order to disperse from a riot or unlawful assembly.
(Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. §§ 750.523, 750.528, 752.541, 752.524, 752.543.)
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. Subsequent convictions are punishable by up to four years in prison or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Participating in, refusing to disperse from, or inciting a riot is a felony, punishable by not more than ten years in prison or a fine of not more than $10,000.00, or both. Unlawful assembly and refusing to disperse from an unlawful assembly are punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
(Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. §§ 750.168, 752.544.)
Obtaining Legal Assistance
If you are charged with being a disorderly person or a similar crime, you should consult with a local criminal defense attorney in Michigan. A criminal conviction, even for a minor offense like disorderly conduct, can have extremely serious consequences and make life difficult for years to come. An attorney can evaluate the charges and tell you if you are in a good position to negotiate a plea bargain or go to trial, and what sort of sentence you can expect if convicted. Talking to an attorney is the best way to protect your rights and ensure that you can present the strongest possible defense.