What Is Disorderly Conduct And How Serious Are The Charges?
By: Mark Diaz
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What Is Disorderly Conduct And How Serious Are The Charges?
Being annoying to others and disrupting the public might seem like minor issues. However, in Texas, several laws criminalize some of this disorderly behavior. You could be charged with disorderly conduct if the activity meets the legal definition. When you face a disorderly conduct charge, it is time to seek legal defense. Our Galveston County criminal defense lawyers at Mark Diaz & Associates will fight for your rights today.
Disorderly Conduct Definition
Texas laws against disorderly conduct are detailed in the Texas Penal Code section on Offenses Against Public Order And Decency. You may be arrested for disorderly conduct and face severe consequences for what you thought was a minor disturbance. The law states that you can be charged with disorderly conduct if you did any of the following knowingly or intentionally:
- Used foul or indecent language that incites others to breach the peace
- Displayed offensive gestures in a public area and the gesture tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace
- Created, by chemical means, a noxious and unreasonable odor in a public place
- Abused or made threats to a person in a public place in an obviously offensive manner
- Fought with someone in public
- Fired a gun in a public place other than at a sport shooting range, as defined by the law
- Displayed a gun in a public place in a way designed to alarm the public
- Exposed your genitals in a public place and you’re reckless about whether another may be present who will be offended or alarmed by the act
- If done for lewd or unlawful purpose, if you enter on the property of another and look into another’s home on said property through any window or other opening in the home (i.e. commonly referred to as “peeping” or “peeping toms”)
Various Offenses Identified Under the “Disorderly Conduct” Statute
There are many other criminal offenses identified under the statute, or law, for Disorderly Conduct. These crimes fall under the umbrella term of “disorderly conduct” but are more specific in nature and each penalized differently. Some examples of these more specific disorderly conduct crimes include:
If you knowingly participate in a riot – meaning, seven or more people assemble to engage in conduct that creates an immediate danger to property or injury to persons – you could be arrested and charged with a Class B misdemeanor
The state recently responded to specific groups who picketed funerals by enacting new laws to criminalize this behavior. They passed a law that bans “picketing” at funerals.
“Picketing” under the law is defined as standing, sitting, repeated walking, riding, driving, or other similar action by a person displaying/carrying a banner, placard, or sign; engaging in loud singing, chanting, whistling, or yelling with or without noise amplification through a device like a bullhorn or microphone; blocking access to a facility or cemetery being used for a funeral service.
This law applies to those “picketing” within 1,000 feet of a facility or cemetery being used for a funeral service for three hours before and after the scheduled time of the funeral service.
Making a false report to the police, such as to 911, is a form of disorderly conduct. Put generally, this offense is committed when a person makes a false report to the police or fire department, and in doing so, knowingly communicates a false emergency that would normally cause the police or fire department to act. This means, even making a prank phone call as a joke may result in a criminal charge under this section of the law.
What Are the Penalties for Disorderly Conduct?
Disorderly conduct can be a serious charge. Many types of disorderly conduct offenses are charged as Texas Class C misdemeanors. If so, you may have to pay a fine of up to $500 and if convicted, the charge will be on your record. For Class C misdemeanors, however, you would not receive jail time. Other types of disorderly conduct offenses are penalized at higher levels, though. Some of the more severe penalties for these other types of cases include:
- Class B misdemeanor: Up to six months in jail and a possible fine of up to $2,000, such as obstructing a highway.
- Class A misdemeanor: Up to one year in jail and a possible fine of up to $4,000, such as firing a gun in the city of Houston.
- Abuse of a corpse: This is a state jail felony, and you can get up to six months to two years in State Jail, which is a TDCJ unit, also known as prison. You could also face up to a $10,000 fine in addition to the jail sentence.
- Third-degree felony: Prison sentence of no less than two years and no more than ten years, and a possible fine not to exceed $10,000. An example would be making a false report of a criminal offense to the police, the police respond, and as a direct result of that lawful police response, a person suffers serious bodily injury or death.
Another disorderly conduct offense that has been in the news lately is pointing a laser at police or other public safety officers. This is generally classified as a Class C misdemeanor but may be charged as a first-degree felony if you cause serious bodily harm to the officer. A First-Degree Felony offense is penalized at no less than five years and no more than 99 years in prison, and a possible fine not to exceed $10,000.
How Do You Fight a Disorderly Conduct Charge In Texas?
Disorderly conduct is a serious charge, but there is hope. The state has to prove every part of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt before you can be convicted. You have your first chance to defend yourself at the hearing when the county prosecutor presents the case against you.
The state’s case is your state of mind at the time of the charge. The law requires the state to show that you engaged in behavior knowingly or intentionally. Also, there are other ways you can defend yourself against this charge:
- Some of the behavior listed in the statute requires the state to prove certain elements such as whether the act was “offensive” or whatever it happened in a “public place.” In these situations, your criminal defense attorney may fight the charge because of the state’s inability to prove these elements.
- The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects the right to free speech. Therefore, you could have a valid constitutional defense if your speech is classified as protected speech.
- Arguing self-defense is possible when you contest a disorderly conduct charge if you were trying to protect yourself or others.
Why You Need An Attorney To Fight Disorderly Conduct Charges
Most disorderly conduct charges are misdemeanors but do not think it is not a serious charge if it is ‘only a misdemeanor.’ On the contrary, being convicted of a misdemeanor can still leave you with fines, jail time, and a criminal record.
The good news is you can often beat a disorderly conduct charge if you retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer early on. Hiring a skilled attorney is well worth the investment because it can often lead to a reduced or dismissed charge. However, it is critical to hire an attorney as soon as possible. If you wait, there is a chance you will say or do something that makes a conviction more likely.
If you have yet to hire an attorney, there are several tips to follow. This will minimize the chances that you say or do something that damages your defense:
Do Not Say Anything to The Police
Under the Fifth Amendment, you can remain silent when you are arrested. You should only provide the police with a statement with your lawyer present. Even if the police do not read your Miranda rights, you should not say anything. Understandably, you want to say you are innocent, but you may harm your defense.
Do Not Resist Arrest
A disorderly conduct charge can only be made worse by resisting arrest. Also, do not get into disagreements with the police. Disobeying police instructions only leads to more legal problems. If you are charged with resisting arrest or evading arrest in Texas, it is a Class A misdemeanor.
Contact Our Galveston County Criminal Defense Lawyers Now
Were you charged with disorderly conduct in Galveston County near Moody Gardens or Galveston Island State Park? You face a serious charge and consequences that could impact you for years.
Our Galveston criminal defense lawyers are dedicated to pursuing every legal option to aggressively fight your disorderly conduct charge. Do not delay. Contact Mark Diaz & Associates today at (409) 515-6170.