By: Mark Diaz
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What are the Penalties for Disorderly Conduct in Texas?
You might think that bothering others, disrupting the public, or disturbing the peace are nothing more than minor annoyances. It may surprise you to learn that Texas has an extensive set of laws on the books that make some forms of misconduct a criminal offense. Disorderly conduct and related offenses are covered in the Texas Penal Code section on Offenses Against Public Order and Decency, and the statute applies to numerous acts. You could be arrested for disorderly conduct and face serious penalties for what you thought was nothing more than simple misbehavior.
In truth, you may be facing misdemeanor charges, and some violations of the law are even treated as a felony. The specifics of punishment will vary based upon the circumstances of the crime, your criminal history, and other factors, but jail time is a possibility. Therefore, you should reach out to a criminal defense lawyer in League City right away to discuss strategies for fighting the charges. You might also find it helpful to review some basics about the offense and penalties for disorderly conduct in Texas.
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Details on Texas’ Disorderly Conduct Laws
For the question of punishment to even come up, there must first be a conviction for the crime of disorderly conduct. As with any criminal offense, the government bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor must have evidence showing that you intentionally or knowingly:
- Used profane, offensive, or indecent language that tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace.
- Displayed an offensive gesture in a public place that is likely to promote a disruption.
- Employed chemicals to create a noxious odor.
- Abused or made threats toward someone.
- Created an unreasonable noise in or near a private residence where you have no right to be.
- Fought with someone.
- Discharged a firearm, other than a shooting range.
- Brandished a gun or other deadly weapon in a matter intended to alarm others.
- Shot a firearm on or across a roadway.
- Exposed your genitals, i.e., “flashed” someone.
- Engaged in acts familiarly known as “peeping,” such as through a window, the guest room of a hotel, or in a public place designed to provide privacy.
Keep in mind that the laws on disorderly conduct (identified above) almost always apply to misconduct in public places.
Statutes Covering Specific Misconduct
There are also several offenses that fall under the disorderly conduct law, but which are described in separate statutes.
Riots: When you participate in a gathering that creates an immediate risk of property damage or personal injury, you could be arrested for rioting. Other acts that violate the law include obstructing police and depriving someone of their legal rights by force or threats.
Funeral Picketing: Texas responded to certain extremist groups by passing a law that makes it illegal to protest at funerals. Displaying signage, making noise, interrupting access, and related acts would constitute a violation of the statute. The prohibitions apply within 1,000 feet of the ceremony, during the service, and for three hours before and after.
Public Intoxication: When drunkenness reaches a certain level, police could arrest you for a version of disorderly conduct termed public intoxication. However, the prosecutor is required to show that you were so impaired that you posed a danger to yourself or others.
False Report: It is a disorderly conduct offense to make harassing or abusive calls to 911, and to report certain types of emergencies knowing that the report is false. This section makes what many know as a common prank call a criminal offense.
Penalties for a Disorderly Conduct Conviction
The basic forms of disorderly conduct are typically charged as a Class C Misdemeanor in Texas. You could be ordered to pay a fine of up to $500 if convicted, but there is no jail time. However, the charges are elevated for some of the specific disorderly conduct crimes. Depending on the facts of the case, the class of crime and penalties may include:
- A conviction for a Class B Misdemeanor could mean up to 180 days in jail, a maximum fine of $2,000, or both. Obstruction of a highway is one example.
- For a Class A Misdemeanor, a judge could sentence a maximum of 1 year in jail and a fine up to $4,000. Discharging a firearm within a municipality is one example.
- Abuse of a corpse is a State Jail Felony for disorderly conduct, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in prison.
- You could be arrested for a Third-Degree Felony for making a false report if your call to 911 resulted in injuries or death as part of the response by emergency crews. If convicted, the prison sentence range is 2 to 10 years.
The most serious form of disorderly conduct is directing a laser pointer at police, a security guard, firefighter, EMT, or another public safety officer. This offense is typically a Class C Misdemeanor, but it is elevated to a First-Degree Felony if you cause serious bodily injury to the officer. If convicted, a judge could sentence as little as 5 years’ incarceration, or even up to life in prison.
Strategies for Fighting Disorderly Conduct Charges
Keeping in mind that the government must prove all elements of a disorderly conduct crime beyond a reasonable doubt, your first opportunity to defend yourself comes when the prosecution presents its case. One of the keys to these offenses is the accused person’s state of mind: The statute requires the prosecutor to show that you acted intentionally or knowingly when engaging in the prohibited acts.
In addition, there may be other options to consider as a defense to disorderly conduct charges:
- Some of the acts itemized in the statute require a showing of “unreasonable” – a concept that refers to how the average person would perceive the conduct. It is possible to contest the charges on the grounds that your actions were not out of bounds.
- The First Amendment protects your right to free speech. If your expressions do not qualify as fighting words or yelling “fire” in a crowded space, you may have a defense on constitutional grounds.
- Self-defense may be an option for fighting disorderly conduct charges if your actions were intended to protect yourself or someone else.
Tips to Follow if You Were Arrested for Disorderly Conduct
The first and most critical To-Do is to contact a criminal defense lawyer in League City about your case. Your attorney can handle all essential tasks and will protect your rights throughout the criminal process. However, some additional tips should help you get through the initial encounter with police and arrest.
- Exercise your Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination by remaining silent when interacting with police. Do not offer information or statements, even if officers have not yet read Miranda warnings. Fight the temptation to express your innocence, as you could reveal too much and harm your defense.
- Never resist arrest or get into physical or verbal altercations with police. It is true that the circumstances surrounding some disorderly conduct arrests can be chaotic, but you will only hurt your case by disobeying law enforcement. Plus, additional charges will likely be tacked onto your case. Resisting Arrest and Evading Arrest or Detention is a Class A Misdemeanor punishable as described above.
- During your arraignment or first appearance in court, enter a plea of not guilty when the judge reads the official charges for disorderly conduct. Your attorney will handle the details on your behalf, but there is a chance that you will be brought to court before you have legal counsel.
By pleading not guilty to the charges, you preserve your rights to defend allegations of disorderly conduct. It may be tempting to enter a guilty plea in cases where you know the punishment is nominal for a misdemeanor, but doing so could affect your future. You will have a criminal conviction on your permanent record, which carries collateral consequences.
Note that there may be good reasons to plead guilty to disorderly conduct, such as through deferred adjudication or pretrial diversion. These programs are similar to probation, so you enter a guilty plea in exchange for lenient sentencing.
Call Now to Speak to a Criminal Defense Lawyer in League City
Knowing the penalties for disorderly conduct in Texas is useful, but the information above should also help you realize that there are ways to avoid them. Even if you cannot get the charges dropped, you might be able to take advantage of other opportunities to lessen the impact of criminal punishment.
At the offices of Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz, we are dedicated to pursuing all available options for fighting disorderly conduct charges. For more information on our legal services for clients in Galveston County and Greater Houston, please call (409) 515-6170 today. We can schedule a consultation with a Texas criminal defense lawyer who can assess your circumstances and explain the legal process.
Mark Diaz & Associates is a Criminal Defense Law Firm in Galveston, Texas representing clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood.