Disorderly Conduct in South Carolina

In South Carolina, the crime of public disorderly conduct prohibits public behavior that is likely to upset, anger, or annoy others. A public place is one that is generally open to the public, such as a bar or store, even if the place is privately owned. Examples of criminal disorderly conduct include being drunk in a restaurant, yelling at someone in a parking lot, and using obscene words likely to cause a fight.

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

Public Disorderly Conduct

Under South Carolina law, it is a misdemeanor to appear "grossly intoxicated" in a public place, or otherwise behave in a disorderly or "boisterous" (obnoxious) way. While South Carolina's lawmakers have failed to define the term "grossly intoxicated," courts have generally interpreted it to mean intoxication that is apparent to an outside observer, most often a police officer. For example, a drunken person riding as a passenger in a car who yells threats and obscenities out of the car window to a person on the street could be arrested and charged with public disorderly conduct.

Disorderly conduct also includes

  • using obscene or profane language in any public place or gathering, or within hearing distance of a schoolhouse or church, or
  • firing a gun within fifty yards of a public road while under the influence of alcohol, except upon one's own premises.

For example, a person who screams obscenities and vulgar language at another in a grocery store could be convicted of public disorderly conduct. (S.C. Code Ann. § 16-17-530.)

For more information on public intoxication, see South Carolina Public Intoxication Laws.

Disturbing Religious Worship

It is also a crime in South Carolina to interrupt or disturb a religious service or meeting, appear at one intoxicated, use offensive or "blasphemous" language or sell alcohol near the service. For example a defrocked priest who shows up at a church during mass and causes a ruckus could be arrested and prosecuted for disturbing religious worship.

(S.C. Code Ann. § 16-17-520.)

Free Speech

South Carolina's courts have upheld the state's disorderly conduct laws against claims that laws are so broad and vague that they infringe on the federal constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not protect "fighting words," those that are likely to provoke a violent response. So a vulgar obscenity that is likely to cause great upset is not constitutionally protected as free speech and can be the basis for a charge of disorderly conduct.


Under South Carolina law, public disorderly conduct and disturbing religious worship are misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of not more than $100 and a jail term of not more than 30 days. (S.C. Code Ann. § § 16-17-520, 16-17-530.)

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with any crime in South Carolina, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can help you properly evaluate your case, understand what evidence the prosecution has to show, and determine the possible sentence you could face. An experienced criminal defense attorney can tell you what to expect in court and help you protect your rights.

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