Minnesota’s law against disorderly conduct criminalizes a variety of different behaviors, including fighting, yelling obscenities, and upsetting meetings. Laws against disorderly conduct, sometimes called disturbing the peace or breach of the peace, can vary from state to state and many municipalities also have their own regulations. However, the general goal of disorderly conduct laws is to prohibit behavior that is likely to upset or annoy others, or disturb the peace and quiet of the community.
For more general information on the crime of disorderly conduct, see Disorderly Conduct Laws and Penalties.
In Minnesota, a person commits the crime of disorderly conduct by:
- disturbing a lawful gathering or meeting, or
- saying something offensive or obscene; or engaging in offensive, obscene, or noisy conduct, likely to upset or alarm others.
In order to secure a conviction, the prosecutor must show that the defendant had reason to know that the act would upset, anger, or disturb others, or provoke a violent reaction. Minnesota’s lawmakers have specifically exempted conduct caused by an epileptic seizure. Disorderly conduct is punished more severely if the victim is a vulnerable adult and the defendant is a caregiver. (Minn. Stat. § 609.72.)
For example, getting into someone’s face and saying something profane could result in a disorderly conduct conviction. However, context matters. What might be considered offensive or obscene in a church – such as yelling a curse word – may be perfectly acceptable in a raucous bar.
People convicted under Minnesota’s disorderly conduct law have argued that it is so vague and broad that it infringes on the First Amendment right to free speech under the United States Constitution. Generally, courts have rejected these claims.
Riot and Unlawful Assembly
Almost all states have laws against riot and unlawful assembly. Under Minnesota’s laws, a riot is three or more people gathered together to use or threaten force, violence, or property damage. Riot is punished more severely if anyone is armed with a deadly weapon or if someone dies as a result of the riot.
Unlawful assembly is a gathering of three or more people:
- intending to commit an unlawful act by force
- disturbing or threatening the public peace, or
- intending to do anything in a way that disturbs or threatens public peace.
It is also a crime in Minnesota to refuse to leave an unlawful assembly. For example, a group of twenty protestors at a national political rally who approached the police with their faces obscured, and yelled obscenities and insults, could be prosecuted for unlawful assembly and riot.
(Minn. Stat. §§ 609.705, 609.71, 609.715.)
In Minnesota, public intoxication is not a crime.
For more information, see Minnesota Public Intoxication Laws.
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.
Unlawful assembly and refusing to disperse from an unlawful assembly are also misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine up to $1,000, or both. Riot is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Anyone who is armed with a deadly weapon or knows that another rioter is armed can be convicted of a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. If someone dies, anyone who is armed can be sentenced up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine of not more than $35,000, or both.
(Minn. Stat. §§ 609.705, 609.71, 609.715, 609.72.)
Obtaining Legal Assistance
Any criminal conviction, even one based on seemingly innocent horseplay or righteous political activism, can result in serious and lasting consequences. If you are charged with disorderly conduct or participating in a riot or unlawful assembly, you should contact a Minnesota criminal defense attorney. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court and how to prepare your case to obtain the best possible outcome.