Disorderly Conduct in Texas

Learn how Texas penalizes disorderly conduct and behavior that disturbs the peace.

By | Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney

Texas has extensive laws prohibiting disorderly conduct. Generally, disorderly conduct laws criminalize behavior that is likely to upset, scare, offend or annoy others, or endanger or disturb the community. Examples of disorderly conduct include fighting in public, indecent exposure, being a "Peeping Tom," and discharging a firearm in public.

What Is Disorderly Conduct in Texas?

In Texas, the crime of disorderly conduct can be committed by:

  • using obscene or abusive language or making an offensive gesture or display that tends to provoke a violent reaction or upset the community's peace and quiet ("fighting words")
  • creating a chemical, noxious odor in a public place
  • threatening or abusing another person in a public place—without provocation
  • making excessive noise in a public place or in or near someone else's private residence
  • fighting in public
  • discharging a firearm in public or on or across a public road
  • displaying a firearm or weapon in public in a way that is intended to alarm or upset others
  • exposing one's private parts in public without regard to whether others might be upset or offended, or
  • looking into someone's home, hotel room, or a public restroom, shower, or dressing room for a lewd or unlawful purpose.

What Is the Punishment for Disorderly Conduct in Texas?

Most disorderly conduct crimes are class C misdemeanors, punishable by a maximum $500 fine but no jail time. The following offenses carry class B misdemeanor penalties of up to 180 days' jail time and a $2,000 fine: discharging a firearm in public (other than on a public road or shooting range) and displaying a firearm or weapon in public to cause alarm.

(Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 42.01 (2022).)

Other Texas Crimes Related to Disturbing the Peace

Texas law also prohibits the following acts that disturb the peace or public order:

  • disrupting lawful meetings, processions, gatherings, or funeral services
  • obstructing roadways, sidewalks, waterways, and other public access points
  • failing to disperse when requested by law enforcement or emergency services, and
  • communicating a false alarm or emergency.

Penalties for these acts range from class B misdemeanors to state jail felonies, depending on factors such as the risk of harm to persons or public infrastructure.

Defenses to Disorderly Conduct Charges in Texas

Possible defenses to disorderly conduct and related charges include constitutional challenges, statutory defenses, and failure of proof.

Constitutional Challenges

Common constitutional challenges in disorderly conduct cases include First and Second Amendment violations. Disorderly conduct charges based on speech, gestures, or displays could be challenged as a free speech violation if police arrest protestors or others whose actions don't rise to the level of inciting a breach of the peace. For firearm-related violations, a defendant might argue that their carrying or use of a firearm fell under their Second Amendment rights.

Statutory Defenses

Texas law also provides several specific defenses to disorderly conduct charges, including the following.

  • Provocation is a defense to charges of abusive or threatening conduct.
  • Reasonable fear of bodily harm by a wild animal is a defense to charges for discharging a firearm in public.

The law also states that children younger than 12 cannot be charged with the following while at school: using offensive language or gestures, fighting, or making excessive noise or offensive odors.

Finally, police must ask individuals to stop the following acts or move before making an arrest if the act could be considered constitutionally protected free speech or free assembly: making excessive noise, obstructing a road or passageways, or funeral picketing.

Failure to Prove the Case

Finally, like all crimes, a common defense strategy is poking holes in the prosecution's case. The judge or jury must acquit the defendant if the prosecution doesn't prove every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

Although disorderly conduct and similar crimes may carry relatively minor penalties, any criminal conviction can have lasting consequences. In addition to time in jail or prison, a fine, or both a fine and incarceration, a criminal conviction record is potentially available to potential employers and others. If you are charged with any crime or have questions about criminal law, you should consult with a Texas attorney experienced in criminal defense. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court and help you protect your rights.

(Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 42.02, 42.03, 42.04, 42.05, 42.055 (2022).)

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