While disorderly conduct charges are not very serious, any criminal charge and conviction can cause you future problems when they show up on a criminal background check.
And the good news is that these cases are often beatable since the charge is so subjective.
Disorderly conduct is a general offense that can be applied to many actions that the police will deem criminal violations. There is a really good chance that you weren’t even aware that you were violating the law when you were charged with this offense.
Many disorderly conduct arrests are the result of alleged drunk and disruptive behavior at a sporting event like a Patriots game, or out at a bar. Whether you were out with friends having a good time or caught up in the excitement of a sporting game, there are many ways in which a disorderly conduct charge can sneak up on you.
The latest cultural panic that could result in a criminal disorderly or disturbing the peace charge is “swerving”, or kids riding bikes on one wheel in traffic and turning away at the last second in a crazy new game of “chicken”. It is a new trend in Worcester, and nationwide, and police are looking to crack down.
Despite the fact that this offense isn’t considered a violent crime, you can still spend time in jail for it, although a jail sentence is rare. A conviction of disorderly conduct can land you in jail for 6 months along with fines. Also, if convicted, you may have to disclose the information on job applications and housing agreements for years to come. And it will appear on criminal background checks that could limit your future opportunities without you even knowing it.
So, while you may not think the disorderly conduct conviction is very serious, it is definitely something you want to try and avoid. Call me today so we can discuss your case and the options available to you.
Massachusetts Disorderly Conduct Laws
What actions can be considered disorderly conduct? Well, there are many.
Disturbing the Peace
Framingham District Court
Newburyport District Court
Taunton District Court
You could be facing charges like this for:
- Offensive language
- Offensive action
- Accosting members of the opposite sex (cat calls)
- Disturbing the peace
- Any disruptive public behavior that interferes with another person’s legal right to communicate or assemble peacefully
- Indecent Exposure
- Urinating in public
- Maintaining a disorderly or loud home
- “Swerving” on a bike
Ref: MGL c.272 §53
As you can see, even these concepts can be applied to many situations. For example—there are many things that could qualify as “offensive language” and it’s easy to see how you could get a charge like this without even realizing you were breaking the law.
Disturbing the Peace Charge
Disturbing the peace is specifically noted as part of the disorderly conduct statute, but is sometimes simply charged in a citation as “disturbing the peace“. There are also separate noise ordinances in some cities and towns that can result in a civil penalty as well as a criminal charge.
We have seen disturbing the peace charges for a range of allegedly disruptive activities, including from confronting public protesters, playing loud music at your home or in public, and flying a drone in your backyard and getting complaints from the neighbors.
Penalties for disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace in Massachusetts
A charge of disorderly conduct under Massachusetts law, or “offensive and disorderly acts”, is punishable by a fine of up to 6 months in jail and a fine of $200 under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 272, Section 53a.
Similarly, a charge of disturbing the peace, or “disorderly persons and disturbers of the peace” is punishable a fine of up to $150. A second offense can result in up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $200 under MGL Ch 272 Sec 53b.
In either case, a criminal charge can sit on your record if you are convicted, and impact your future opportunities from anyone who might review your criminal history with a CORI search.
Fighting A Disorderly Conduct Charge
An arrest for disorderly conduct is always a subjective call by the police. And they are more likely to arrest you if you personally annoying them or are disrespectful to the officer.
But being annoying, irritating, or disrespectful to a police officer is not against the law. In fact, it is your 1st Amendment right to do so.
However, if the police feel disrespected, they will sometimes make up an excuse to charge you with disorderly conduct. (See also, resisting arrest, and the fake charge of “interfering with a police officer”)
Legally, because the words within this law are open to interpretation, a lot of what your case rides on is “precedence” or what other similar cases in the past have experienced in court.
Case win examples
Recently, we won a disturbing the peace case at a Clerk Magistrate’s hearing at the Framingham District Court.
Our client was a 49-year-old computer scientist accused of disturbing the peace after confronting and arguing with an abortion protester outside of a hospital where his daughter was being treated. He asked the group to stop chanting, and when they didn’t, he grabbed a protester’s rosary beads and threw them to the ground.
The Clerk Magistrate said there was, in fact, probable cause for a more serious charge of assault and battery, but was moved by our attorney’s arguments to hold the case, and not issue a criminal complaint, given the man’s distraught emotions over his daughter’s health, and sincere regret over the incident. The client avoided any criminal charge appearing on his record and the possible consequences that may have resulted in risk to his employment.
Clerk Magistrate’s hearings are an excellent opportunity to get disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace cases dismissed with the right argument, since Magistrates have wide discretion to rule in the “best interests of justice”, and not simply on the probable cause issue. Especially since “probable cause” is a low standard, and can often easily be met on the facts. So we always plan for alternative legal strategies to avoid a criminal charge.
While I have defended many clients against disorderly conduct charges, I recognize that not all cases are the same. As your attorney, I would ensure your case got the individualized attention you deserve.
Call me today to discuss what happened, and I’ll tell you how I can help. No obligation!