You may have heard of “disorderly conduct” before, but you might not know exactly what qualifies as disorderly conduct here in Florida. And, as you’ll learn, if you’ve been charged with this crime, the law doesn’t necessarily require the support of particularly heinous facts to prove you were conducting yourself in a disorderly way.
Disorderly conduct is also referred to as breaching the peace. According to Florida law, you can be accused of this crime if you display one of many varied behaviors, such as:
- Corrupting public morals
- Outraging the sense of public decency
- Affecting the peace and quiet of someone who is witness to your behavior
- Engaging in a brawl or fight
- Engaging in conduct that breaches the peace
If these acts mentioned in the Florida statutes seem a bit broad, you’re right. Disorderly conduct is basically any type of behavior that is likely to cause other people to be alarmed, angry, annoyed, or make them want to commit an illicit act.
What Does Disorderly Conduct Look Like?
Disorderly conduct is often seen as a catch-all charge because so many types of behaviors or actions could qualify as disorderly conduct.
Want some specific examples?
Fighting is disorderly conduct. If you get into a fight with someone in a public place, you could be charged with this offense. Also remember that if two or more people are engaging in disorderly conduct, it could qualify as a riot, which is also illegal here in Florida.
Making an unreasonable or offensive noise for a long period of time – especially if you’ve been asked to stop – could be disorderly conduct. A Florida man was arrested for disorderly conduct when he started excessively cursing in a grocery store because he was told he couldn’t buy alcohol with his out-of-state driver’s license.
Causing a crowd to gather or making a scene could count as disorderly conduct. Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater could count as disorderly conduct. Shouting at a police officer could count as disorderly conduct. And the list goes on and on.
Sometimes – but not always – disorderly intoxication charges may be paired with disorderly conduct charges. It is important to remember, though, that the two are completely separate and have different associated penalties.
But just because you can be charged with disorderly conduct, it doesn’t mean that you will end up being convicted of disorderly conduct.
You need a strong defense.
Defending Disorderly Conduct Charges
Basically, when a law enforcement officer arrests someone for disorderly conduct, they’re trying to control the public’s behavior.
But their interpretation of what happened may not be what actually happened.
For a disorderly conduct charge to stick, a prosecutor has to prove that your actions corrupted public morals, outraged public decency, and caused a safety risk to more than just a single person. For these reasons, disorderly conduct charges are some of the most defendable charges in Florida.
If you simply annoy someone, use profanity, or cause a crowd to gather, you can’t really be convicted unless there was something more at stake. So while these charges shouldn’t be taken lightly, your alleged offense can usually be challenged and possibly dropped or dismissed.
Many disorderly conduct charges – especially when yelling or profanity is involved – end up being in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which says that citizens have a right to free speech.
But what many people don’t understand is that police officers – often on the other end of a so-called disorderly conduct charge – don’t have special privileges when it comes to free speech.
Let’s look at two examples of how words directed at a police officer have and have not resulted in a disorderly conduct conviction.
Disorderly Conduct and Cops: Two Case Studies
In 1990, the Florida District Court of Appeals reversed a disorderly conduct conviction where a defendant sang “F*** the police” while one officer was having a conversation with another. The defendant was screaming so loudly that a crowd gathered across the street.
Although the defendant was first convicted of disorderly conduct, it was then reversed when the record wasn’t able to show evidence “that the child’s singing evoked a response tending to inflict injury or incite an immediate breach of the peace.” Because the defendant was just singing profane words for the sake of singing them, she wasn’t actually committing disorderly conduct.
On the other side of the spectrum, a disorderly conduct conviction for engaging with a police officer was upheld in 2000. The defendant entered a grocery store just before it was closing, and after the store had closed a police officer asked the man to check out. The defendant then began yelling at the officer, even telling him to “move out of his f***ing way.” Then the defendant bumped into the officer, brushed him aside, and even threw his wallet at the officer.
The appellate court recognized that although the defendant’s words alone would have ben insufficient for a conviction, his physical actions were enough to uphold the conviction.
While these are only two examples of many, they exhibit that when it comes to disorderly conduct, the facts of the case matter. And those facts may not be enough to convict. So contact an experienced Florida disorderly conduct attorney today to discuss your case and see if you can fight your charges.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.