Anyone who has watched an episode of Cops is aware of disorderly conduct. It’s the criminal charge brought against bare-chested suspects for fighting, urinating, or harassing people in public. Under Ohio law, disorderly conduct offense covers a wide variety of conduct, and it is very easy for the prosecutor to bring these charges.
The line between protected speech and behavior and criminal disorderly conduct isn’t always so neat, however, which allows prosecutors to overcharge. At Groth Law, our Toledo disorderly conduct lawyer can help analyze your case and go over your possible defenses. It is best to meet right away to give yourself the best chance of success.
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DEFINING DISORDERLY CONDUCT
Ohio’s disorderly conduct statute can be found at ORC 2917.11, which prohibits causing alarm, inconvenience, or annoyance by doing any of the following:
- Taunting or challenging another person in a way that provokes a violent response
- Fighting or threatening to harm others in a violent manner
- Making offensive or unreasonable noise or gestures, including grossly abusive language
- Hindering or infringing a person’s freedom of movement
- Committing acts or creating conditions that are physically offensive or that create a risk of harm
The law also singles out people who are drunk and makes it illegal for them to engage in offensive or inconvenient conduct that they would know was wrong if they were sober. The intoxicated also cannot create conditions that present risk of harm to a person or their property.
There are some common examples of disorderly conduct:
- Fighting another person in a public place, which causes annoyance to people nearby.
- Screaming and yelling at another person in a public place, which scares bystanders or the person you are yelling at.
- Cornering someone in an alley and trying to prevent them from walking by you.
- Urinating in public while intoxicated.
The law does not limit disorderly conduct to public locations. In theory, getting into a fight in your home could also make you vulnerable to a disorderly conduct charge, but most of the offensive behavior probably occurs in public.
OTHER PRACTICE AREA CASES
PENALTIES FOR DISORDERLY CONDUCT
Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor offense, which means it is less serious than a felony. It is also a minor misdemeanor, except for the following situations in which it will qualify as a misdemeanor in the fourth degree:
- The offender was warned to stop but continues the offensive or threatening behavior
- The offense is committed near a school
- The offender commits the offense in front of law enforcement or other official personnel
Someone with three or more violations will also be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor for their fourth offense.
For a minor misdemeanor, a defendant is not looking at any jail time. However, he or she will have to pay a small fine, around $150. Nevertheless, you might find yourself having to report minor misdemeanors in the future, such as when applying to college or graduate school, or when trying to get a professional license. For this reason, those arrested absolutely should take the charges seriously.
For a fourth-degree misdemeanor, a defendant is looking at up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $250. A defendant with an extensive criminal history absolutely could spend more than a few nights in jail, so meet with a lawyer to discuss a defense.
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DISORDERLY CONDUCT & THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Americans have important freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and assembly. Saying or doing offensive things are protected under the First Amendment, even when they annoy or scare people.
Disorderly conduct laws infringe on those freedoms in the name of public safety. If you read Ohio’s law closely, you will see that the law doesn’t criminalize mere shouting or screaming; instead, the law criminalizes taunts that are “likely to provoke a violent response.” In a similar vein, the law doesn’t criminalize offensive speech; it takes aim at “grossly abusive language.”
Often, with disorderly conduct charges, there is a question of whether the defendant’s conduct truly passed from the merely offensive (though legal) to criminal. Prosecutors sometimes overcharge to make a point or to tack on additional criminal charges in the hopes of scaring a defendant into a plea deal. Prosecutors might also target people whose political speech they disagree with as a way to intimidate them into silence.
At our firm, we closely analyze the circumstances of your arrest to determine whether your conduct, though offensive, truly crossed the line to become criminal. If it did not, you should not be convicted of a criminal offense.
OTHER DEFENSES TO A DISORDERLY CONDUCT CHARGE
The best defenses are based on the factual record, so we cannot say in advance what defense we will bring. However, the following are the most common:
- Mistaken identity. You might not have been the person engaging in disorderly conduct.
- Reasonable doubt. Prosecutors must prove each element of the offense. For example, there might be a legitimate question about whether you committed an offensive act near emergency personnel. If so, you might be a charge of misdemeanor in the fourth degree.
- Illegal arrest. The police might have decided to arrest you before you did anything remotely disorderly. In that situation, the police need probable cause to support the arrest. If it is lacking, then a judge might toss the case from court.
In other situations, it might be possible to avoid a fourth-degree misdemeanor charge by getting the prosecutor to agree to charge only a minor misdemeanor, which helps our clients avoid any possibility of time in jail.
SPEAK WITH A TOLEDO DISORDERLY CONDUCT LAWYER TODAY
If you have been arrested for disorderly conduct, your first call should be to an attorney at Groth Law. Disorderly conduct charges might seem minor, but they can have far-ranging effects on a person’s life. The best chance for success involves hiring the right Toledo criminal defense lawyer to represent you in court or in negotiations with the prosecutor.
Contact our law firm today. We are pleased to offer a free, confidential consultation to members of the public facing criminal charges.