All About Disorderly Conduct in Florida
Disorderly conduct charges are more common than you’d think. It can be especially prevalent in places like college campuses, sporting events, and bars, where alcohol and partying occur. Find out more about how to avoid disturbing the peace with this article written by our senior law clerk, Gabi!
IntroductionUnder Florida law, disorderly conduct is crime consisting of disturbing, or breaching, the public peace, outraging public decency, or fighting in public. This crime is categorized as a misdemeanor in the second-degree, which can pose severe consequences, like jail time, probation, and a criminal record which can affect professional and housing prospects. That is why it is incredibly important to understand the nuance of the charge and hire an experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney who can apply each and every defense applicable to your case.
How Can this Happen to You?Disorderly conduct charges are more common than you’d think. It can be especially prevalent in places like college campuses, sporting events, and bars, where alcohol and partying occur. Even if you are allowed by law to purchase alcohol at a party or event, if you become too intoxicated and “disturb the peace” or corrupt commonly held morals, you could be charged with disorderly conduct. This is usually referred to as public intoxication, which falls into the general classification of disorderly conduct. You can read more about public intoxication and related offenses here.
The Statute’s DefinitionThe crime of disorderly conduct, often charged as “breaching” or “disturbing” the peace, is codified in Section 877.03 of the Florida Statutes. The statute defines the crime:
“Whoever commits such acts as are of a nature to corrupt the public morals, or outrage the sense of public decency, or affect the peace and quiet of persons who may witness them, or engages in brawling or fighting, or engages in such conduct as to constitute a breach of the peace or disorderly conduct, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree…”
Essentially, the offense is applicable to any conduct that could be seem as deviating from standards of public decency, rising to the level of outrageous or disturbing. Unfortunately, since the statute is vague and encompasses many kinds of behavior, this crime can include a wide array of scenarios, from fighting to excessive cursing, to nudity, and other types of behavior one could consider outside of public decency.
What Needs to Be Proven to Support a Disorderly Conduct Conviction?According to the statute, the State must prove that the accused:
Engaged in an act that
corrupted the public’s decency and outraged commonly held morals, or
disturbed the peace of someone who witnessed the accused’s behavior
Engaged in a
other conduct that could be considered disturbing the peace.
Disorderly Conduct Penalties in FloridaDisorderly conduct is considered a second-degree misdemeanor charge in Florida. If you are convicted of this crime, you can be sentenced to any combination of the foregoing penalties:
Jail time of up to sixty (60) days;
Probation, or community control, lasting up to six (6) months; and
Fines amounting up to five hundred ($500) dollars.
For first time offenders who have a knowledgeable attorney by their side, their sentence will likely not reflect the statutory maximum represented above, and instead, will likely result in a sentence of probation, like community service. However, even that creates a permanent criminal record, which can affect those convicted for the long haul.
Repeat offenders are not so lucky, and prosecutors will usually seek the maximum sentence, especially if the charged behavior was extremely offensive or disturbing. In that scenario, jail time becomes much more likely if the accused does not have a skilled attorney.
Disorderly Conduct DefensesLuckily, disorderly conduct is very defendable in the state of Florida since the statutory language is so broad. Someone accused of this crime must engage in behavior that crosses the line of public decency, and is not merely annoying, profane, exciting, or rude. Some common defenses include:
Mere Verbal Conduct
Under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, mere verbal conduct is not sufficient to sustain a conviction, since the First Amendment limits the statute’s applicability to “fighting words”. Fighting words include language which by its “very utterance inflict[s] injury or tend[s] to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” Also included are “words known to be false” like shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater when there is none, since this can create very real danger. However, most courts hold that words by themselves are not a sufficient basis for conviction.
Even yelling at a police officer, alone, will be insufficient to sustain a disorderly conduct charge. This still holds true even if you use profanity, as police officers do not have special privileges that rise about an individual’s First Amendment rights. But, if the yelling or cursing is accompanied by actions that interfere with the ability for them to do their job, a conviction can be sustained.
Rudeness and Volume
If you were only rude, annoying, belligerent, cursing, or loud, a conviction cannot be sustained for disorderly conduct in the State of Florida since your actions have to surpass mere annoyance to others and amount to disturbing the public peace. Lmao I dare you to link to the Karen article here
Causing a Scene
Under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the State cannot sustain a conviction merely because you acted in a way that caused a crowd to gather or others to notice you. There has to also be evidence that the crowd is incited to breach the peace, or you are acting in a way that is extremely offensive to them, disturbing public morals.
Tallahassee Criminal Defense AttorneyThough disorderly conduct seems like a tame charge, the consequences of a conviction can last far past the jail or probationary periods. A criminal record can follow you or a loved one forever, affecting the ability to lock down housing or apply for certain jobs. If you or a loved one has been charged with disorderly conduct in Florida, you should consult with an experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney to explore your legal options. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience fighting such charges and will ensure every defense is explored in your favor. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.