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Property Offenses

Disorderly Conduct

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The following is not legal advice but is for information only. Legal advice is when an attorney applies the law to a person's individual circumstances and advises them on their legal options or potential exposure to legal harm, which a web page clearly does not.

Disorderly conduct takes several forms in the relevant statute. Arguably some of the law’s provisions are too vague, give too much arbitrary enforcement to police officers, or have already been regarded as unconstitutional. In other words, there may be a basis for an argument that the statute is problematic. The statute also covers First Amendment behavior.

 

Firstly, a person could be guilty if, in a public place, the person intentionally or recklessly causes annoyance to others by making loud and unreasonable noise (the statute recently inserted fireworks as an example), activating a device, or exposing a substance, that releases noxious and offensive odors (which arguably and if so absurdly makes throwing a stink bomb a criminal offense), or engaging in fighting, without being licensed or privileged to do so. Causing annoyance to others is also highly subjective and also a problem with this statute.

 

Another type of behavior that is prohibited is that either in public or private, a person knowingly accosts, insults, taunts or challenges any person with offensive, derisive or annoying words, or by gestures or other physical conduct, that would in fact have a direct tendency to cause a violent response by an ordinary person. That brings up a host of First Amendment type issues that could make this statute problematic generally or specifically to an individual based on what’s alleged. It also determines what’s criminal by the response of others.

 

Another prohibition is that in a private place, a person makes loud and unreasonable noise, (again, use of fireworks was recently inserted) that can be heard by another person, who may be a law enforcement officer, as unreasonable noise (which can be heard in public or private) after having been ordered by a law enforcement officer to cease the noise. In this part of the statute, a police officer is determining what is ‘unreasonable,’ which is itself a problem, and there’s the vagueness issue of what constitutes ‘unreasonable’ in the first place. Laws are supposed to have some kind of standard. By way of example, a civil statute (that gets a person a ticket and fine) about playing music too loud in a car has more of a standard than this statute.

 

There is also a provision about accosting people at funerals. It would be surprising if anyone is now ever charged with this offense in future. This provision was likely in response to rather awful behavior by members of a tiny out-of-state church that made homophobic remarks at the funerals of veterans and had widespread media coverage. However, that kind of prohibition has already been regarded as unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court (specifically related to the same church that probably initiated this provision in the first place). Awful can also be lawful because of the First Amendment.

 

Normally disorderly conduct is a low-level misdemeanor, and can be used as an alternative charge in a plea deal. In those circumstances, a person who pleads to that charge in a plea deal waives any argument about any problem the statute may have.

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