Disorderly Conduct in Ohio

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Ohio has a number of different laws that prohibit and criminalize a variety of trivial but obnoxious behavior. Examples of disorderly conduct, also called “disturbing the peace,” include making verbal threats, throwing poop, and interrupting meetings. Ohio also has laws against false alarms and rioting. What all of this behavior has in common is that it is likely to upset, anger, bother, frighten, or annoy others.

For more general information on the crime of disorderly conduct, see Disorderly Conduct Laws and Penalties.

Disorderly Conduct

Under Ohio’s laws, people commit the crime of disorderly conduct when they inconvenience, annoy, or alarm others by:

  • fighting, threatening others with injury or property damage, or engaging in other violent behavior
  • making excessive noise
  • saying anything offensive or abusive, or making an obscene gesture
  • insulting someone when it is likely to provoke a violent response
  • blocking pedestrian or vehicular traffic without good reason, or
  • creating an offensive or dangerous condition without good reason.

For example, urinating on a public street in full view of others could be considered disorderly conduct, as could screaming curse words and generally making a scene in a restaurant after being asked to leave. Disorderly conduct is punished more severely (aggravated) if the defendant continues the conduct after being asked or warned to stop, or if the conduct occurs at or near a school, in an emergency room, or in the presence of a law enforcement officer, a firefighter, medical personnel, or any person responding to an emergency.

Drunk and disorderly

People in Ohio also commit the crime of disorderly conduct by, while intoxicated

  • engaging in conduct that risks harm to themselves, others, or other’s property, or
  • in a public place (or in the presence of two or more people), engaging in conduct that is likely to offend, inconvenience, scare, or annoy others.

In contrast, two people that get drunk and pass out in their own home are not guilty of any crime so long as their behavior does not pose a risk to themselves or anyone else. However, a drunken person who climbs up onto the top of a tall sculpture, endangering himself and possibly damaging the sculpture, could be convicted of disorderly conduct.

For more information, see Ohio Public Intoxication Laws.

Public transit

It is also a crime in Ohio to do any of the following on a public transit vehicle or in a public transit facility

  • fail to pay a fare
  • alter a ticket or token to avoid paying a fare
  • eat, smoke, drink, or spit
  • play music or sound, or write or draw graffiti, or
  • resist or fail to obey an order from a transit police officer.

Other disruptive conduct

It is also a crime in Ohio to disrupt a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering by interrupting the proceedings, or making or doing something obscene or offensive. A person who disrupts a school board meeting by mooning people could be arrested for this crime.

(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2917.11, 2917.12, 2917.41.)

Free Speech

Generally, Ohio courts have held that the First Amendment right to free speech forbids any conviction for disorderly conduct based on abusive speech unless the words are “fighting words” that would provoke a violent response from an average person.

Misconduct in an Emergency

A person in Ohio also commits a crime by hampering any official response to an emergency or failing to obey an officer’s order at the scene of a fire, accident, disaster, riot, or emergency. A bystander at the site of a car accident who refuses to move along after being asked to do so by a police officer is guilty of misconduct. The crime is punished more severely if the defendant creates a risk of injury or property damage. (Ohio Rev. Code § 2917.13.)

False Alarm

Under Ohio’s laws, false alarm – reporting a fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe that the defendant knows is false – is a crime. It is also a potentially more serious crime (called inducing panic) to cause an evacuation of a public place, or any public panic or inconvenience by falsely reporting a fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe; threatening to commit a violent crime, or committing any other crime. Emergency drills, such as fire drills, are permitted. For example, calling in a bomb threat that delays flights and requires police to search the airport could result in a conviction for inducing panic.

False alarm and inducing panic are punished more severely if either crime results in economic harm (including any costs to the government for emergency response or the costs of interrupted business) of $1,000 or more, or involves a claim of weapons of mass destruction. Inducing panic is also punished more severely if anyone is injured, or if a school or university has to be evacuated. (Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2917.31, 2917.32.)

Rioting and Failure to Disperse

Inciting (urging) others (by words or actions) to engage in violence is also illegal in Ohio if actual violence results or if there is a “clear and present danger” of actual violence. So, a university professor who dryly advocates for armed revolution would not necessarily violate the law, but if the same professor calls on armed students to engage in a battle with the police during a heated protest, the professor could be arrested. Under Ohio’s laws, a riot is four or more people engaging in any act (even a legal act) by force or violence, or engaging in course of disorderly conduct, in order to

  • commit some crime
  • intimidate a public official or public employee, or
  • interfere with any government, school, or university function.

A person commits the crime of aggravated riot by participating in a course of disorderly conduct with four or more other people, intending to commit a felony or any crime of violence; or when the defendant is armed or knows that another participant is armed and intends to use a deadly weapon. Aggravated riot is punished more severely if it occurs in a detention facility, such as a jail or prison. In order to convict a person of rioting, the prosecutor does not need to prove that there was any express agreement among the participants to riot.

“Reading the riot act”

If a group of five or more people is engaged in disorderly conduct and there are other people nearby, and it is likely that injury, property damage, or public inconvenience could result, police officers may “read the riot act” and order everyone to disperse. Failure to follow an order to disperse is a crime, but police officers cannot require people who are peacefully assembled for a legitimate reason to disperse. So, peaceful picketers outside a factory may not be required to leave, unless they are threatening property damage or injury, being offensive or noisy, or blocking the streets or sidewalks.

(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2917.01, 2917.02, 2917.03, 2917.031, 2917.04.)

Punishment

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. Depending on the circumstances, public transit misconduct may be a minor misdemeanor or punishable by as much as 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. Misconduct in an emergency is a first degree misdemeanor (punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000) or a fourth degree misdemeanor.

The most serious cases of inducing panic are second degree felonies, punishable by two to eight years in prison and a fine up to $15,000; the least serious cases are misdemeanors of the first degree . False alarm may be anything from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony, punishable by nine months to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Inciting violence may be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on what sort of violent behavior is urged. Participating in a riot is a first degree misdemeanor. Aggravated riot is punishable by six to 18 months in prison and a fine up to $5,000. Aggravated riot in a detention facility is a felony of the third degree. Failure to disperse is a minor misdemeanor, unless it occurs at the scene of an emergency or creates a risk of physical harm, in which case the crime is a misdemeanor of the fourth degree.

(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2917.01, 2917.02, 2917.03, 2917.04, 2917.11, 2917.12, 2917.13, 2929.24, 2929.28, 2917.31, 2917.32, 2917.41.)

Obtaining Legal Assistance

Depending on the circumstances, disorderly conduct and similar crimes can be very minor or very, very serious. But even if you are only facing minor criminal charges, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney in Ohio. Being convicted of even a misdemeanor can result in fines and jail times, and you could also have difficulty securing future employment or passing a background check. An attorney can tell you what consequences are likely, what to expect in court based on the charges and the assigned judge and prosecutor, and how to present the strongest possible defense.

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