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When an individual engages in behavior that disturbs the peace, including violating noise ordinances, behaving recklessly in a crowded area, provoking a fight, or public drunkenness, they may be charged with disorderly conduct. It is one of the most commonly charged offenses in Georgia, and it is often used by police officers to keep the peace and prevent the situation from escalating any further.

In some cases, however, a police officer will charge someone with disorderly conduct simply because they were engaging in behavior that the officer did not like. Despite not breaking any laws, the police will arrest the person to teach them a lesson for irritating the police. Although this charge is not as serious as other charges, such as aggravated assault or assault with a deadly weapon, it can result in serious penalties.

Any person who has been charged with disorderly conduct is urged to contact a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of criminal law. A Savannah criminal defense lawyer will review the details of the case, determine whether the charges are valid, and develop a defense strategy that will protect their client’s legal rights.

What Is Disorderly Conduct?

Also referred to as breach of the peace, disorderly conduct is any type of obnoxious or unruly behavior that creates a disturbance and causes other people in the vicinity to feel annoyed, inconvenienced, or alarmed. It is one of the most commonly filed charges in the state of Georgia. Although the behavior is disruptive, it does not usually present a serious public danger. According to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), the following are examples of disorderly conduct:

  • When a person behaves in a violent or tumultuous way toward another person, which threatens the safety of their life or health.
  • When a person’s behavior threatens to damage or destroy another person’s property.
  • When a person provokes another person using offensive or abusive language, or so-called fighting words, that are meant to incite an immediate breach of the peace. For example, if a man yells profanities at his wife while approaching her in a menacing way, these would qualify as fighting words and may be considered disorderly conduct.
  • When a person uses obscene or vulgar language, either in the presence of, or on the phone, toward an individual who is under 14 years old, which threatens the breach of peace.

Disorderly conduct covers the following:

  • Circumstances: Oftentimes, disorderly conduct cases involve behavior that would not be considered disorderly if it occurred at a different time or a different place. For example, shouting at a co-worker in a loud industrial area during the middle of the day would not be considered disorderly conduct. However, yelling at a neighbor in a quiet residential area during the middle of the night could warrant a disorderly conduct charge.
  • Objectivity: When an individual is charged with disorderly conduct, the prosecution does not always have to demonstrate that the other person was alarmed by the other person’s behavior. The prosecutor must only be able to show that the accused’s conduct would have caused a reasonable person to become alarmed.
  • Location: Disorderly conduct, or behavior that disturbs the public order, is prohibited in certain public areas such as hospital emergency rooms, public restroom stalls, carnivals, and buildings that are available for public rental. If the disorder occurs in private, any behavior that disturbs others will satisfy the public requirement.

What Activities Qualify as Disorderly Conduct?

The laws that define disorderly conduct vary from state to state. However, the following behaviors generally qualify as disorderly conduct, regardless of the state:

  • Fighting: Depending on the nature of altercation, fighting, brawling, and any physical conduct may be considered disorderly conduct. For example, if two people are involved in a physical altercation at a bar, one of both individuals may be charged with disorderly conduct, depending on the circumstances of the fight. If the behavior or intent is more severe, the person may be charged with assault, battery, or other more serious charges. These also come with much more serious penalties.
  • Protests: Peaceful protesting is a constitutional right. However, engaging in disruptive protesting may result in a disorderly conduct charge. For example, the court may rule that peaceful protesters were engaged in disorderly conduct if they participated in a sit-in that blocked traffic on a pedestrian walkway.
  • Disturbing an assembly: People who disrupt public rallies, city council meetings, or religious ceremonies may be charged with disorderly conduct. For example, if someone attends a city council meeting and starts yelling profanities and rude remarks directed at a council member who is giving a speech, that person may be charged with disorderly conduct.
  • Public misconduct: If an individual engages in behavior that is meant to take place in private, including public urination or public masturbation, this may warrant a disorderly conduct charge. Public intoxication may also be considered a form of disorderly conduct.
  • Police encounters: Certain interactions with police officers may lead to a disorderly conduct charge. For example, although simply arguing with a police officer is not considered disorderly conduct, engaging in threatening behavior directed at a police officer does count as disorderly conduct. Lying to a police officer, providing false information, fleeing the scene, hindering an officer’s investigation, or shoving a police officer may also be considered disorderly conduct.
  • Disorderly conduct during arrest for driving under the influence (DUI): If a motorist gets out of their vehicle, they may be arrested for disorderly conduct. Motorists should never get out of the vehicle during a traffic stop unless the officer instructs them to do so. In some cases, if a driver is pulled over for a DUI checkpoint, a passenger may get out of the vehicle if they believe the driver is being unfairly treated. However, this will likely make the situation worse for everyone involved, particularly if the officer warned the person to get back in the car, but they refused. Police officers are entitled to protect themselves from potentially dangerous behavior that can occur during a traffic stop. If a passenger begins to argue, interfere with the arrest, or becomes aggressive, they may be charged with disorderly conduct.

Is Public Drunkenness Considered Disorderly Conduct?

Also referred to as public intoxication, public drunkenness is considered a separate offense under Georgia criminal law. When a person is intoxicated in a public or private place and behaves in a way that is offensive or vulgar, exposes themself to another person, or performs an indecent act such as public urination, they may be charged with public drunkenness. This is a misdemeanor crime that is punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and one year in prison.

What Are the Penalties for Disorderly Conduct?

In most cases, disorderly conduct is considered a misdemeanor offense. However, there are certain circumstances in which it may qualify as a felony offense, including when a person falsely reports a fire or engages in behavior that presents a serious risk to public safety. The following are examples of possible penalties for a conviction of disorderly conduct:

  • Jail: Since disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor offense, the conviction may involve limited jail time or none at all. However, if the accused is a repeat offender or their conduct was particularly offensive, they may face a prison sentence of up to one year. If the disorderly conduct is considered a felony offense, the penalties are more severe, including a longer prison sentence.
  • Fines: These are the more common form of punishment in disorderly conduct convictions. Fines can range from $25 to $1,000 or more. Oftentimes, the accused is ordered to pay a fine rather than spend time in jail, although the accused may be ordered to pay a fine on top of a jail or probation sentence.
  • Probation: These are also common in disorderly conduct cases. The court may sentence a person to several months or more of probation. If they violate the probation or engage in another act of disorderly conduct, they will likely face a more severe penalty, including steeper fines or jail time.

What Are the Defense Options for a Disorderly Conduct Charge?

If an individual is found guilty of disorderly conduct, it can damage the person’s reputation and jeopardize relationships with family and friends. A disorderly conduct conviction also means that the individual will have a criminal record, which can make it difficult to get a job or buy a house. These are potentially serious implications, particularly if the behavior does not warrant the punishment. Regardless of the circumstances, a skilled criminal defense lawyer will review the charges, conduct a thorough investigation, and develop a strategic defense strategy that will protect the client’s legal rights. The following are examples of effective defense strategies that may be used:

  • Freedom of speech: If someone is charged with disorderly conduct for being loud and obnoxious, and using words that are offensive to another person, the accused could claim protections under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A criminal defense lawyer may argue that the accused was expressing their opinion and was not engaging in disorderly conduct. This is the most common defense strategy used in disorderly conduct cases.
  • Involuntary actions: If the accused can prove that they were not in control of their actions, this may be an effective defense strategy. However, the court may require the accused to prove that they have a medical condition or have a mental health issue that caused them to behave in such a way.
  • Self-defense: If the disorderly conduct involved a physical altercation, the accused may be able to argue that they acted in self-defense. A disorderly conduct arrest is improper if the accused was simply trying to defend themselves. If the accused was also trying to protect another person from harm, this may be an effective defense strategy. This defense strategy is likely to be much more effective if there were witnesses who can corroborate the story and tell the judge what they saw.
  • Reasonable doubt: If the accused’s criminal defense lawyer can successfully argue that the prosecution failed to make its case because of a lack of evidence, the case may be dismissed and the charges dropped. This strategy is often used in disorderly conduct cases because police will often charge protestors or people who are disrupting the peace with disorderly conduct as a catch-all offense to resolve the disruption rather than obtaining a conviction. If there is a protest or an altercation that draws a large crowd, police may arrest a large group of people at once. However, although this may simplify the law enforcement’s job at the time of the event, there is usually little to no evidence of wrongdoing that the prosecution can use to obtain a conviction.

Why Should I Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

A disorderly conduct charge is nowhere near as serious as other charges, such as drunk driving, sexual assault, or aggravated battery. However, a disorderly conduct conviction can have serious consequences. In addition to the steep fines, possible jail time, and probation, a conviction can remain on the person’s permanent record, making it much more difficult to obtain a new job or be approved for a mortgage. It can also be very damaging to one’s reputation and their relationships with family and friends.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer will thoroughly review every detail of the case. A lawyer will determine whether the disorderly conduct charge was warranted, and they will examine all the evidence and develop a defense strategy.

Contact the Kicklighter Law team at 912-754-6003 
to schedule a consultation!

Savannah Criminal Defense Lawyers at Kicklighter Law Represent Clients Facing Disorderly Conduct Charges

If you have been charged with disorderly conduct, reach out to one of our skilled Savannah criminal defense lawyers at Kicklighter Law at your earliest convenience. We understand the personal, professional, and financial impact that a disorderly conduct conviction can have on you. To schedule a consultation, call us today at 912-754-6003 or contact us online. We are located in Springfield, Georgia, and we proudly serve clients throughout Effingham County, Savannah, and the surrounding areas.