Colorado's laws against disorderly conduct criminalize a variety of different behaviors, including fighting in public, using offensive fighting words, displaying firearms, and rioting. 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 likely to upset or annoy others or disturb the community's peace.
Colorado's disorderly conduct law prohibits the following intentional, knowing, or reckless behavior:
The behavior described in the first three bullets are petty offenses, punishable by up to 10 days of jail time and a $300 fine. However, if a person commits these acts to disrupt a funeral, the crime increases to a class 2 misdemeanor.
Displaying a firearm to alarm others carries penalties for a class 2 misdemeanor, and discharging a firearm in public is a class 1 misdemeanor.
A person convicted of a class 2 misdemeanor faces up to 120 days of jail time and a $750 fine. For a class 1 misdemeanor, the possible jail time goes up to 364 days and the maximum fine is $1,000.
Getting into a physical altercation at a bar or in a park would be an example of disorderly conduct, as would shooting a gun into the air at a party. These offenses, along with displaying a firearm to alarm others, are fairly straightforward.
In cases involving offensive noise or fighting words, though, context matters. These acts generally need to rise to the level of trying to provoke a violent response. For instance, chanting vulgar profanity at a peaceful protest might be considered offensive but wouldn't necessarily rise to the level of inciting violence. However, screaming that same profanity directly in someone's face could be.
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-9-106 (2023).)
Colorado addresses other acts of disturbing the peace under laws prohibiting riots, disruption of lawful assemblies, and obstruction of public passageways.
Colorado defines a riot as a public disturbance involving three or more persons that creates a serious risk of injury to persons or property or that obstructs a government function.
Engaging in a riot. A person who engages in a riot commits a class 2 misdemeanor. But if the person is armed with or uses some type of deadly weapon or device, rioting increases to a class 4 felony, which can mean two to six years of prison time.
Inciting others to riot is a class 1 misdemeanor. The offense becomes a class 5 felony, however, if the riot results in any injury to person or property. A class 5 felony carries one to three years of prison time.
Failure to disperse. If police, military, or other public safety officials order rioters to disperse, disobeying that order is a class 2 misdemeanor.
(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-9-101, 18-9-102, 18-9-104, 18-9-105 (2023).)
It's a petty offense to significantly obstruct or interfere with a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering. A person can cause a disruption using physical acts, words, or other means. If the person knows the gathering is a funeral, the penalty increases to a class 2 misdemeanor.
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-9-108 (2023).)
Colorado makes it a petty offense to intentionally or recklessly obstruct a highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, building entrance, elevator, aisle, stairway, or hallway with public access. The same penalty applies when a person disobeys an official order to leave any of these areas. It's a class 2 misdemeanor if the person obstructs access to a funeral or obstructs a funeral procession.
(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-9-107 (2023).)
Because disorderly conduct crimes cover a broad range of activities, they tend to be subject to frequent constitutional challenges, including First Amendment challenges and overbreadth and vagueness challenges. For instance, disorderly conduct laws that violate a person's freedom of speech violate First Amendment rights. If the law prohibits lawful behavior (such as peaceful protests), it can be deemed unconstitutionally overbroad. A law is also unconstitutional if its language is so vague that the average person doesn't know what conduct is prohibited. For example, what is meant by "unreasonable noise"?
A defense attorney might also try to poke holes in the prosecution's case by stating the elements of a crime weren't proven. For instance, the attorney may argue the behavior wasn't offensive or disruptive, nor was it the type of behavior that would alarm a reasonable person. If the prosecutor can't prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury must acquit.
If you face criminal charges for disorderly conduct or a related offense, contact a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can protect your rights, help you navigate the criminal system, and evaluate any defenses you might have.