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Disorderly Conduct and the Potential Consequences

Disorderly conduct, sometimes known as disturbing the peace, includes crimes that involve disruptive and/or offensive public activity. A large portion of arrests in the United States each year are made due to disorderly conduct, and the consequences for such behavior vary widely because so many offenses can be classified under the term. If you are arrested for disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace, there are some legal strategies that can be used in your defense.

How is Disorderly Conduct Defined?

The state of Wisconsin defines disorderly conduct as “violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tends to cause or provoke a disturbance.” Many different acts fall under this term, and how broad the definition is can sometimes complicate your defense against it. Considering how wide the spectrum of what disorderly conduct covers can be, there are some variables that must be considered when determining whether an act can be considered disorderly conduct:

  • The circumstances under which the act took place: Many people are charged with disturbing the peace for actions that would not be considered otherwise disorderly if it had occurred in a different place or different time. For example, someone playing loud music publicly in a residential area at night may be charged with disorderly conduct, but someone doing the same thing on a busy shopping street in the afternoon would not.
  • Being objective: The arresting officer and subsequent prosecution must only prove that a reasonable person could have been disturbed by the conduct that took place. They do not have to prove that an actual person was disturbed.
  • The location: There are some states that only charge for disorderly conduct when the behavior takes place in a public area, but there are some states that do not require the actions to affect the public or take place in public. Depending on the state you are charged in, the court can determine that any behavior that disturbs another person (usually a neighbor) can satisfy the location requirements under the law. Disturbing even one other person is enough to warrant a disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace charge.

There are many variables at play when it comes to disorderly conduct charges. The best defense is usually trying to prove that no one was or would have been disturbed by the behavior in question.

What Kind of Behavior Could Result in a Disorderly Conduct Charge?

As stated before, the definition of disorderly conduct under the law is quite broad. However, there are some behaviors that are almost certain to result in a charge for disturbing the peace, including (but not limited to):

  • Disturbing an assembly, such as a public rally or religious gathering, can be reason enough to charge someone with disorderly conduct.
  • Public intoxication, or being intoxicated to the point of belligerence in a public setting, is one of the main reasons people are arrested for disturbing the peace.
  • Arguing with a police officer while being instructed to do something or threatening them with physical contact can result in a charge. For example, if an officer requests you to move in a situation where there is an issue with crowd control and you don’t comply, you could be disturbing the peace.
  • Taking part in a disorderly or dangerous protest can be considered disorderly conduct. For example, if you protest on the sidewalk, you will most likely be fine, but if you move that protest into the street and block traffic, you could be disturbing the peace.
  • Loitering around a place of business or private residence can be disorderly conduct if your presence is causing another party to fear for their safety.
  • Engaging in a sexual act in public, such as prostitution or peeping on another person, can certainly result in disorderly conduct charges that will usually be filed alongside more severe charges.

What Are Some Consequences of Disorderly Conduct?

In Wisconsin, disorderly conduct can be classified as a citation or a criminal charge. If your behavior results in a citation, you are not actually being charged with a crime, but you will be responsible for a fine and you will receive a ticket. If the behavior you engaged in is considered disturbing enough for you to be charged with a crime, it is likely you will receive a Class B misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are reserved for less serious crimes, and Class B misdemeanors result in a prison sentence of up to 90 days and a fine of up to $1,000. You could also receive a combination of both a fee and prison time.

Every state handles disorderly conduct charges differently. While Wisconsin’s sentences vary widely depending on the seriousness of the behavior in question, most states typically include one (or more) of the following:

  • A fine: It is very common for disorderly conduct to be punished with a fine. Fines can be small, from about $25, but they can get as high as $1,000 or more. Many courts prefer to give a fine for disorderly conduct cases instead of prison time to save resources.
  • Probation: If you are convicted of disorderly conduct, the court can sentence you to a few months or more of probation. Essentially, probation is a period of legal supervision over someone who has committed a crime. On probation, you may be subject to drug testing, counseling, community service, or more depending on the severity of your behavior. Probation sentences can often be terminated early for good behavior and you are fulfilling all requirements.
  • Prison: Although a rarer punishment for disorderly conduct, you can receive prison time if convicted, especially if it is not your first offense. Most states require the sentencing to be one year or less, but it is much shorter in most cases. Sometimes, courts will order someone convicted of disorderly conduct to “time served,” which means they consider the jail sentence satisfied by the time spent in jail when first arrested.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you have been arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and need advice regarding your case, contact the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella today. Attorney Cherella has over 20 years of experience working on criminal cases and treats all the cases that come to his desk with empathy and consideration. He understands that there is a person behind the paperwork and keeps his client base smaller to provide each client with attentive and personalized legal service. He will guide you through all aspects of the criminal case process. Contact him today at (414) 882-8382 or via the contact page.