In Wisconsin, a person can commit the crime of disorderly conduct in different ways. Anything from yelling to using obscenities to making excessive noise can be considered disorderly conduct, also called “disturbing the peace,” or “breach of the peace.” While many different behaviors can be considered disorderly conduct, what these acts have in common is that they are likely to upset, anger, or annoy others. Wisconsin also has laws against disruptive assemblies and protests.
For more general information on the crime of disorderly conduct, see Disorderly Conduct Laws and Penalties.
Under Wisconsin’s laws, a person commits the crime of disorderly conduct by engaging in violent, abusive, indecent, or unreasonably loud conduct that tends to disturb or provoke others. For example, yelling curse words at a police officer during an argument could be considered disorderly conduct. Getting into a screaming fight with a roommate that causes neighbors to call police could also be considered disorderly conduct.
In 2011, Wisconsin’s lawmakers added language to the law stating that openly carrying a firearm, in and of itself, is not disorderly conduct. (Wisconsin is an "open carry" state.) But the language goes on to say that disorderly conduct charges are still possible if the circumstances indicate that the person carrying has a "criminal or malicious intent." So a person who legally carries a firearm in public cannot be charged with disorderly conduct for the mere act of openly carrying a firearm—even if the carrying startles some people. But carrying a firearm in a crowded street while screaming obscenities at bystanders could result in disorderly conduct charges.
(Wis. Stat. § 947.01.)
An unlawful assembly under Wisconsin’s laws is a gathering of three or more people that is so disruptive that it is reasonable to expect injury or property damage if the assembly is not dispersed. It is a crime to fail or refuse to leave an unlawful assembly when the defendant knows that a law enforcement officer has ordered the attendees to disperse, or to participate in an unlawful assembly on public university grounds when the defendant knows or could be expected to know that a law enforcement officer has ordered the attendees to disperse. An example of an unlawful assembly might be a rally where protestors carry offensive signs and yell obscenities and threats at people passing by on the sidewalk.
(Wis. Stat. § 947.06.)
Defendants have claimed that Wisconsin’s law against disorderly conduct is so broad and vague that it infringes on their federal constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment, but these challenges have generally not been successful. While the right to assembly is guaranteed under the Wisconsin Constitution, the general rule is that disruptive assembly is not protected.
(Wis. Const. art. 1, § 4.)
In Wisconsin, public intoxication is considered a public health problem, not a crime. However, police can take a person who is drunk in public into protective custody. (Wis. Stat. § 51.45.)
For more information, see Wisconsin Public Intoxication Laws.
Disorderly conduct is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Unlawful assembly is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 9 months in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both jail and a fine. Any public university employee or student who is convicted of unlawful assembly may also be suspended from school or work for up to six months.
(Wis. Stat. §§ 947.01, 947.06, 939.51.)
Any criminal conviction, even for a misdemeanor such as disorderly conduct or unlawful assembly, can have serious consequences, including time in jail, a fine, and a criminal record. If you are charged with a crime, you should contact a Wisconsin criminal defense attorney immediately. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court and help you protect your rights and obtain the best possible outcome under the circumstances.