Disorderly conduct, often called disturbing the peace in Louisiana, can mean a variety of things, including fighting, being drunk or noisy in public, and participating in a riot. Disorderly conduct laws criminalize a variety of behavior, but what they all have in common is that they prohibit conduct that is likely to distress, anger, or disturb other people or public tranquility and order. This is why disorderly conduct is sometimes called "breach of the peace." While New Orleans might have a reputation as a city that welcomes bad behavior, disturbing the peace is a crime and, like any crime, a conviction can have serious consequences.
For more general information on the crime of disorderly conduct, see Disorderly Conduct Laws and Penalties.
A person in Louisiana commits the crime of disturbing the peace by:
For example, a person who gets into a fight in a bar or yells a racial slur on the street could be convicted of disturbing the peace in Louisiana, as could a group of teens fighting on the street. In order to be convicted of disturbing the peace, the prosecution must show that the defendant had reason to know that his or her actions would upset the public.
(La. Rev. Stat. § 14:103.)
Like many states, Louisiana has enacted laws against disrupting memorial services to stop extremist and hate groups from picketing funerals. This type of disturbing the peace is punished more severely. (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:103.)
In Louisiana, some defendants have claimed that the state’s law against disturbing the peace is so broad and vague that it infringes on their federal constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment. Generally, these challenges have not been successful.
In Louisiana, it is also a crime to participating in a riot (a violent and disorderly public disturbance of three or more people acting together that results in or creates a danger of injury or property damage). It is also a crime to incite a riot by urging or attempting to get another person to participate in a riot, or to fail to comply with a police officer or public official’s order to disperse. These crimes are punished more severely if the riot results in property damage of $5,000 or more, serious bodily injury, or death. For example, Ku Klux Klan members who have a heated confrontation with police officers could be charged with inciting a riot and failing to disperse. (State v. Duke, 362 So. 2d 559 (La. 1978).)
(La. Rev. Stat. § § 14:329.1, 14:329.2, 14:329.3.)
It is also a crime in Louisiana to block a public sidewalk, street, bridge, alley, or the entrance to a public building or ferry. For example, a person who passes out drunk on the sidewalk on Bourbon Street could be charged with obstructing public passage. Lawmakers specifically exempt the placement of barricades for construction or maintenance, or by public officials. For example, police officers are permitted are permitted to place barricades during public concerts and parades.
(La. Rev. Stat. § 14:100.1.)
It is also a crime in Louisiana to play a car radio or stereo too loudly in a public street or park. Too loudly is quantified as louder than 85 decibels (about as loud as a blender) from a distance of more than 25 feet. For example, a driver who turns up the radio to maximum volume and rolls down the windows could be charged with excessive noise. Louisiana law also criminalizes making excessive noise (more than 55 decibels, or about as loud as a microwave oven) within ten feet of the entrance to a hospital or place of worship.
(La. Rev. Stat. § § 14:103.1, 14:103.2.)
It is also a crime to maintain a place of prostitution or lease property knowing that it will be used for prostitution. The crimes are punished much more severely if child prostitutes is involved. (La. Rev. Stat. § § 14:104, 14:105.)
For more information on prostitution and related crimes, see Prostitution Laws.
It is also a crime in Louisiana to be:
For example, a homeless person sleeping in a park could be arrested for vagrancy. (La. Rev. Stat. § 14:107.)
Historically, vagrancy laws criminalized someone who was without visible means of support. Basically, vagrancy laws make it a crime to be homeless, jobless, or otherwise considered undesirable. Many states have gotten rid of their vagrancy laws, but Louisiana’s law remains on the books. Critics charge that vagrancy laws are used to arrest, prosecute, and harass homeless and poor people.
For more information, see our article on Vagrancy.
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.
Participating in, inciting, or failing to disperse from a riot is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Riot and related crimes are punishable by up to 21 years in prison at hard labor if someone dies as a result. If the riot results in substantial property damage or serious bodily injury, then the crimes are punishable by up to five years in prison at hard labor.
Obstructing public passage is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Excessive noise coming from a car is punishable by a $200 fine and a 30-day driver’s license suspension. Second convictions may be punished more severely. Excessive noise near a hospital or place of worship is punishable by up to 30 days in jail.
Keeping or leasing a disorderly place is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both, unless child prostitution is involved, in which case the crimes are punishable by long prison terms at hard labor. Vagrancy is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $200, or both.
(La. Rev. Stat. § § 14:100.1, 14:103, 14:103.1, 14:329.7, 14:103.2, 14:104, 14:105.)
Although some disturbing the peace laws may seem silly or outdated, violation of these laws can lead to time in jail or prison and a criminal record. If you are charged with disturbing the peace or a similar crime, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney in Louisiana. Only an experienced attorney can evaluate your case and tell you what are your best options and the soundest way to proceed.