Here’s What to Do
Facing criminal charges is a challenging and scary experience, especially if you have never had any issues in the past involving law enforcement.
If you face charges for disorderly conduct, it’s pivotal to remember that you do have recourse. Understanding the legal situation and your rights is an important first step.
If you face disorderly conduct charges in Texas or elsewhere, it is also advisable to seek the help of a lawyer who has experience in these types of cases. Below we will cover legal terminology, background on the charges, and other important information.
What Is Disorderly Conduct?
Under Texas Penal Code § 42.01, disorderly conduct is a term used to refer to a list of several possible actions and behaviors. While many instances pertain to these behaviors occurring in public places or areas like a public school campus, some situations involve private residences or events. Additionally, these actions also have to disrupt or breach the peace.
A person charged with disorderly conduct in Texas has intentionally and knowingly:
- Used vulgar or profane language in a public place, having promptly disturbed the overall sense of peace in that area
- Made an offensive gesture or action in a public place, having promptly disturbed the overall sense of peace in that area
- Threatened a person in a public place
- Made an excessive amount of noise in a public place
- Used chemicals to create a harmful or offensive odor in a public place
- Fought with a person in a public place
- Discharged a firearm in a public place that is not a shooting range
- Discharged a firearm on or over a public road
- Displayed a firearm or other weapon in a public place to cause alarm
- Exposed their genitals or anus in a public place without regard for those around them
Disorderly conduct also includes a subsection of actions that someone commits for a “lewd or unlawful purpose.”
Those actions include:
- Entering someone else’s property and looking through a window or other opening
- While on the grounds of a hotel or similar establishment, looking into another guest’s room through the window or other opening
- While in a public place, looking into a private restroom stall, private changing stall, or private shower stall
Other Offenses Related to Disorderly Conduct
As a continuation of Texas Penal Code Section 42, you may also be charged with one of the following acts separately or in addition to the previously mentioned acts.
Other similar offenses include:
- Knowingly assembling or participating in a riot
- Obstructing a highway or other public passageways like an entrance, exit, or elevator
- Disrupting a lawful gathering or procession
- Disrupting a funeral service or funeral procession
- Making a false alarm or report of a fire or other offense
- Reporting a false act, fire, or offense to a law enforcement agency or 911
- Making abusive or silent calls to 911
- Interfering with someone else’s ability to call for emergency assistance
- Harassing, tormenting, or threatening a person over the phone, on websites, through email or other electronic communication methods
- Abusing or hiding a corpse
- Being cruel to animals, service animals, or livestock animals
- Engaging dogs or fowl in fighting (known as “cockfighting”)
- Committing destruction of the American or Texas flag
- Using a laser pointer on a uniformed officer or official worker
Penalties and Fines Associated With Disorderly Conduct Charges
In Texas, charges for disorderly conduct are typically either a Class C misdemeanor or a Class B misdemeanor. However, Texas has broad guidelines and the sentencing and severity of penalties are at the discretion of the judge hearing a case. That is why it’s important to not enter a plea or agree to any deals without first consulting a lawyer who is experienced in disorderly conduct cases.
Possible penalties include:
- Fines up to $500 for a Class C misdemeanor
- Fines up to $2,000 for Class B misdemeanors involving specific actions in disorderly conduct like displaying a firearm or obstructing a highway
- Jail time of up to 180 days
Possible Defenses for Disorderly Conduct
Since many aspects of a disorderly conduct charge involve noise or vulgar language use, these actions can be subjective. While noise level has to meet the legal requirement of being above 85 decibels to be considered a public nuisance, that’s only after a person receives notice from a law enforcement officer. So, in other words, a person who can prove that they turned down the music or lowered the noise level after receiving a warning would not commit a disorderly conduct offense.
Other possible defenses for disorderly conduct charges include, but are not limited to:
- Use of prescribed medication that impairs or alters an individual’s ability to judge sound
- Physical or other disabilities
- Being unaware that the noise was a disturbance to others around
- Being mistakenly identified as the source of a noise or disturbance
- Law enforcement officers not following proper procedure
- You acted in self-defense or otherwise felt threatened
Actions to Take When Facing Disorderly Conduct Charges
If police or prosecutors charge you with disorderly conduct or similar charges, the first step is to try and remain as calm as possible. This is essential whether or not you may have committed the crime alleged or not. Because you are not guilty of a crime until after a court determines so, do not admit guilt or agree to any deals presented to you before speaking with counsel.
Some other steps that you can take include:
- Gathering contact information for witnesses: If someone was at the scene and can attest to or provide proof that supports your case or innocence, they may help your defense.
- Writing a log of the events according to your memory: Complete this step as soon as you can following the incident or your charges. Write down or type up whatever you can remember and try to be as thorough as possible. Even if information may seem unimportant, it might be helpful later in your defense.
- Consulting an attorney: Since each case is different, talk to a lawyer who handles disorderly conduct charges. An attorney can review your case and provide insight and possible defense.