Getting to Know the Disorderly Conduct Charge
When the State of Texas created its disorderly conduct charge, it really went to town. The charge is so broad and so vague that you might feel hard-pressed to find something that does not qualify. Nevertheless, better understanding this charge can help to ensure you are not nabbed within its vast boundaries and help to build your strongest defense if you are. As with any other criminal charge, it is always in your best interest to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side.
Disorderly Conduct: What’s That?
It may be easier to define what disorderly conduct is not, and that amounts to sitting quietly on a bench and minding your own business. The crux of this charge is when your actions are perceived as disturbing or otherwise upsetting what is called the general order of the public. What is the general order of the public, you wonder – it basically means the status quo when nothing worth mentioning is going on. In other words, disorderly conduct charges are often related to causing a disturbance of one kind or another. The charge of disorderly conduct is something of a catchall, and it is often used in tandem with other charges that can include:
So if you are accused of starting a bar fight, for example, you might face charges of both assault and disorderly conduct. Or if you are identified as being a nuisance in general, you might face a disorderly conduct charge, which is sort of the legal equivalent of a time out, except it comes with a criminal record that no one wants soiling their name. In essence, the charge of disorderly conduct criminalizes actions deemed threatening, offensive, or rude to the public at large. In other words, this is a charge that is very concerned with public niceties.
When it comes to the law, disorderly conduct is classified as Offenses against Public Order and Decency, and one engages in disorderly conduct when one intentionally or knowingly does any of the following:
Uses either profane, indecent, or vulgar language in a public place that immediately incites a breach of the peace – a prime example is yelling Fire! Into a crowded theater
Makes an offensive gesture or display in a public place that immediately incites a breach of the peace – a prime example is lighting a smoke bomb in a theater to create the illusion of a fire
Employs chemical means to create an unreasonably noxious odor in a public place – a prime example is using a stink bomb to get a class canceled
Threatens or otherwise abuses someone else (in an obviously offensive manner) in a public place
Makes an unreasonable amount of noise in a public place – other than at a sporting event or on a shooting range – or in or near a private home in which one has no right to occupy – driving a vehicle with a modified muffler that amplifies the sounds is a prime example
Fights with someone else in a public place
Discharges a firearm in a public place that isn’t a public road or a shooting range
Displays a firearm or another deadly weapon in a manner that is calculated to cause alarm in a public place, such as firing a gun into the air on a public street
Shoots a firearm on or across a public road
Exposes one’s genitals or anus with reckless disregard about who might see
Additionally, there are actions related to doing any of the following for purposes that are lewd or unlawful that also qualify as disorderly conduct, including:
Entering someone else’s property and looking into a dwelling on the property through a window or another opening, which amounts to engaging in the classic act of being a Peeping Tom
Looking into the guest room of someone else through a window or another opening – while on the premises of a hotel
Looking into a shower stall, changing room, or dressing room that is designed to provide someone else with privacy – while on the premises of a public place
The State of Texas got busy when it created the disorderly conduct statute.
Disorderly Conduct Classifications
Disorderly conduct is generally classified into three distinct categories that include speech, assaultive behavior, and lewd behavior.
Generally, the government does not have the right to thwart your freedom of speech, but certain kinds of language and types of communication do fall under the disorderly conduct statute. When the State deems the speech involved as being indecent, abusive, vulgar, or profane and as threatening to destabilize the peace, it can levy the charge of disorderly conduct. And the same applies to gestures or displays of offensive behavior that do the same.
Assaultive and Disruptive Behavior
Those acts that tend to frighten members of the public or that are considered a nuisance also find their home under the disruptive behavior statute. An example includes firing off a weapon into the air – even if the perpetrator has no intention of actually causing harm (putting others in fear will suffice). This can get tricky because simply throwing a smoke bomb into the street could result in the same charge.
Disorderly conduct covers lewd behavior that is not considered assaultive. Displaying one’s genitals or anus without concern for who may see (and for who may be offended by) the act is a form of disorderly conduct: public urination and the act of mooning someone else both fall under this section of the law. If there was an element of sexual gratification involved, that would raise the charge to indecent exposure.
When it comes to charges related to disorderly conduct, you may have questions, and if so, you are not alone. Fortunately, the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions can help.
What are the fines and penalties for a disorderly conduct conviction?
Generally, a disorderly conduct charge is a Class C misdemeanor, which comes with up to $500 in fines and no jail time. If, however, the charge involves either of the sections that involve a firearm, the charge is elevated to a Class B misdemeanor, which comes with fines of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail. It is important to note, however, that a conviction means that you will have a criminal record that can be exceptionally difficult to erase and that can lead to serious social consequences.
What are the social consequences involved?
If you are convicted of disorderly conduct, it becomes a matter of public record, which can have all of the following unfortunate social consequences:
Your standing in the community can take a hit
Having a criminal record can make it difficult to find a job (there are plenty of candidates out there who do not have criminal records to choose from) and can make advancing your career challenging
Your conviction can make it difficult to rent an apartment or to obtain a home loan
The fact of your disorderly conduct conviction can make obtaining a federal student loan unlikely, can make gaining acceptance in the college of your choice doubtful, and can ensure that you are not allowed to live on campus if you do gain acceptance
Don’t I have freedom of speech?
Yes, the First Amendment guarantees us all the right to freedom of speech, but the court imposes certain exceptions – and language that poses a real threat or danger qualifies. Yelling fire into a crowded movie theater – the classic example – can prove deadly in and of itself, which makes it illegal. There are other offensive comments, however, that do not threaten the peace of the general public and that are protected by the First Amendment. A seasoned criminal defense lawyer has the savvy to make the distinction and to skillfully fight for your freedom of speech.
I had my gun out because I was afraid for my own safety. Am I protected?
It is important to note that just because you are charged with disorderly conduct does not mean that you are guilty. You have legal rights, and they should be protected. If you had your gun out for purposes of self-defense, this fact should be woven into your defense strategy.
I was provoked; is it still disorderly conduct?
In Texas, the disorderly conduct law includes a defense: being unreasonably provoked if the charge is making threats and using abusive language. If you were provoked, this fact needs to be addressed in your defense.
Is there any way to keep a disorderly conduct charge off my record?
If you are facing a disorderly conduct charge that is a Class C misdemeanor, deferred probation may be a possibility. Once you successfully complete the requirements of your deferred probation sentence, your case will be dismissed, and a petition for nondisclosure then becomes a possibility.
How can I protect my rights and help build my strongest defense?
This is a significant question, and the truth is there are important steps you can take from the outset to help yourself out if you are facing a disorderly conduct charge, including:
You should invoke your right to remain silent. After providing the police with the necessary identifying information upon arrest, let them know that you are not interested in answering any questions (this is a job for your criminal defense lawyer, which leads us to the next point).
Consult with a practiced criminal defense lawyer as soon as you are given the opportunity to do so (let the police know that you want an attorney from the outset).
Allow your practiced criminal defense lawyer to speak on your behalf.
Follow your knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer’s advice regarding your next best steps.
How can a criminal defense lawyer help?
Having a criminal defense lawyer in your corner can help in a number of important ways that include:
Your criminal defense lawyer knows the ins and outs of the court involved and will help you better understand the strengths and challenges of your case.
Your criminal defense lawyer has a strong working relationship with the prosecution and will have an excellent feel for the best path forward – whether this involves a plea bargain or going to trial on the strength of the evidence.
Your criminal defense lawyer knows your legal rights and is dedicated to protecting them.
Your criminal defense lawyer is on your side and will leave no stone unturned in building your strongest defense.
Your criminal defense lawyer will help you make the right decisions for you – given the unique circumstances at hand.
Your criminal defense lawyer will help you put your best foot forward (demonstrating to the court that you are serious about avoiding all criminal charges in the future).
Your criminal defense lawyer will skillfully advocate for keeping the charge off your record.
Turn to an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Lawyer for the Legal Guidance You Are Looking For
There is no such thing as just a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor, such as a disorderly conduct charge, can profoundly affect your future and is something that you should fight to the best of your ability. The truth is that the charge of disorderly conduct is exceptionally broad, and if the police officer is looking for something to charge you with, disorderly conduct is a great catchall. This does not alter the fact, however, that a charge is not the same as a conviction. You have powerful legal rights, and you should make it your mission to defend them. Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, understands the serious nature of your situation and is well-positioned and well prepared to help. Mr. Pritchard takes great pride in his exceptional track record of successfully defending the rights of clients like you – in pursuit of favorable resolutions of their claims. We are here for you, so please do not wait to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 today for more information about how we can help.