Disorderly conduct, while a particularly common crime, is described by a particularly vague law. This crime is also known as a breach of the peace, and people may be arrested for the crime to regulate the conduct in public spaces. Any act that corrupts public morals or violates standards of public decency could be considered disorderly conduct. Likewise, any behavior that affects the peace and quiet of other individuals might be regarded as disorderly conduct. Examples of such conduct include public fights, arguments, intoxication, and nonviolent encounters with the police.
Florida laws also allow people to be prosecuted for disorderly conduct if they participate in public fights or brawls, called affrays. Typically, a disorderly conduct charge is a second-degree misdemeanor, but affrays can result in first-degree misdemeanors. Public fights or brawls also qualify as riots under Florida law and can result in a felony prosecution, which is much more serious than a misdemeanor charge.
If you find yourself fighting a misdemeanor or felony charge of disorderly conduct, there are three possible defenses your attorney could take in a case:
- Act occurred in a private, not public place
- First Amendment right to free speech
An attorney could argue you were only brawling in public in self-defense. For example, if a drunk man starts becoming aggressive toward you and a loved one, you can’t be blamed for brawling with the individual if he attempts to harm you. You may have participated in disorderly conduct, but you were acting to protect yourself or your loved one from injury, as the other individual started the events. However, this defense will only work if you did not provoke the other person.
The law also specifies you must have been in a public space to be charged with disorderly conduct. For example, if you were drunk in public, you could be charged with disorderly conduct; however, if you were drunk on your own or a friend’s property, you can’t be accused of a breach of the peace because you were not on public land.
Last, your right to free speech is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If you were practicing your right to speak freely in public, you are likely to be able to avoid a disorderly conduct charge. However, there are certain exceptions to this protection. Using fighting words is not protected under the First Amendment. For example, if you call someone a name and provoke them into fighting you, you will likely be charged with disorderly conduct even though the other person attacked first.
Likewise, shouting “fire” in a public building when there is no fire in the area could incite panic. This type of language is called enhanced speech because the delivery of the words changes the context of your language. Shouting “fire” as if there was an emergency is incredibly different than talking about the “fire” – hot Buffalo wings in the restaurant down the street. If your attorney can prove you weren’t using enhanced speech to incite a riot, you’re protected from the disorderly conduct charge.
Charges of disorderly conduct can be severe. Judges are at liberty to impose any of the following combination of penalties if you are found guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor:
- Up to $500 in fines
- Up to six months of probation
- Up to sixty days in jail
If you are guilty of a felony, however, the sentences are much harsher. Talk to one of our skilled Florida criminal defense attorneys today to discuss the circumstances of your case. Musca Law has more than 150 years of combined legal experience to offer your case. Let our aggressive attorneys defend your rights and your freedom.
Contact us at (800) 687-2252 or fill out our online form to schedule your free case consultation today.