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Disorderly Conduct: Florida’s “Catch All” Crime

One of the more common crimes charged in Florida is that of disorderly conduct. Though typically a misdemeanor, disorderly conduct is frequently charged alongside felonies, and in certain instances the charge itself may be a felony in certain circumstances.

Background

Disorderly conduct is a crime in most United States jurisdictions. As a wide range of acts may qualify as disorderly conduct under most statutes, the crime has been used as a “catch all” charge by prosecutors to punish acts that do not fit neatly into other statutes.

At the Federal level, disorderly conduct is an act that

  • is fighting or is violent or threatening in nature,
  • uses language or a gesture that is threatening, obscene, or is likely to cause injury or incite a breach of the peace,
  • makes a noise that is unreasonable at the time and/or place the defendant made it, or
  • causes a hazardous or offensive condition.

The Federal statute is not a common charge, as it is limited in jurisdiction to national parks.

Definition

In Florida, disorderly conduct (or breach of the peace) is defined as several different acts, namely

  • a nature to corrupt the public morals,
  • outrage the sense of public decency,
  • affect the peace and quiet of persons who may witness them,
  • engages in brawling or fighting,
  • or engages in such conduct as to constitute a breach of the peace or disorderly conduct.

As you can see, the statutory definition of disorderly conduct is quite broad. Common actions charged as disorderly conduct include arguing in public, being intoxicated in public, and encounters with law enforcement that are not violent in nature.

Other situations often charged as disorderly conduct are loud or unreasonable noises, blocking vehicle traffic, loitering in certain places, using exceedingly abusive or obscene language in public, fighting (known in Florida as an “affray”), and physical altercations. Inciting a riot is also frequently charged as disorderly conduct.

Penalties

In Florida, disorderly conduct is a second degree misdemeanor, which could lead to a sentence of sixty days in jail and a fine of up to $500. However, if the disorderly conduct involves a public fight, the crime is punished as a first degree misdemeanor, which can lead to up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Inciting a riot is a third degree felony, which may lead to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000.

Defenses

The charge of disorderly conduct can be defended in several ways. If the act involves fighting, one common defense is that of self defense, arguing that the defendant acted in the way he or she did out of a justified sense of self preservation.

Another defense to a charge of disorderly conduct that involves speech or acts is that of the First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Many acts or statements that are seen by authorities as offensive or outrageous have been charged as disorderly conduct but thrown out as a matter of law because the court agreed that those acts were protected speech.

Disorderly conduct is often successfully defended by arguing that the place in which the act occurred was not a public place. An argument in a private residence is not disorderly conduct as that residence is not a public place.

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