Disorderly Conduct Laws
Almost every state has a disorderly conduct law making it a crime to be drunk in public, "disturb the peace," or loiter in certain areas. Since the statutes are often used as “catch-all” crimes, many types of obnoxious or unruly conduct may fit the definition. Police often use a disorderly conduct charge to keep the peace when a person is behaving in a disruptive manner, but presents no serious public danger.
The definition of disorderly conduct can vary from state to state. For instance, in some states, mere possession of an open container of alcohol can constitute disorderly conduct. Similarly, the penalties can vary widely and often depend on the exact nature of the conduct. For lesser offenses, a police officer may simply issue a citation requiring the recipient to pay a fine, like a traffic ticket. For more dangerous or disruptive behavior, the police officer may bring the person to the local jail and require someone to bail the person out. If you have more questions about disorderly conduct, you should check your state’s laws or consult with a local criminal attorney.
What Can You Do?
- Ask Them to Stop the Behavior: If the person disturbing you is a neighbor or someone you know, and you don’t feel physically threatened or in potential harm, you can explain to person that the conduct is problematic and ask him or her to stop. If the situation escalates, you should remove yourself immediately.
- Contact the Police: If the behavior continues, or if there’s imminent danger (such as fighting) you may want to contact the police and report the situation. A person who disrupts the peace is often given a fair warning by police. In most cases, police involvement may stop the disruptive behavior altogether.
- Contact a Lawyer: Finally, if none of the above actions help your situation, and you suffer an injury as a result, it may be necessary to contact an attorney. In addition to violating criminal laws against disturbing the peace, disruptive behavior may violate nuisance laws, making a civil suit necessary. A restraining order, injunction, or other legal remedy may help you put an end to the disruptive behavior.
For more information, see FindLaw’s section on public safety violations.