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The National Trial Lawyers
Greater Lowell Bar Association

Disorderly Conduct

A person who is convicted of disorderly conduct can be fined, and a second or subsequent offense carries the possibility of a jail sentence.

Elements of Disorderly Conduct

In order to convict a defendant of disorderly conduct, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant either (a) engaged in threatening or fighting behavior; or (b) engaged in tumultuous or violent behavior; or (c) created a physically offensive or hazardous condition by an act that did not serve any legitimate purpose;
  2. It was reasonably likely that the defendant’s actions would affect the public; and
  3. The defendant either (a) intended to cause annoyance, public inconvenience, or alarm; or (b) recklessly created a risk of annoyance, public inconvenience, or alarm.

Common Defenses and Defense Strategies

  • Disorderly conduct is most often charged when the defendant (who is sometimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol) gets involved in a fight in public and someone calls the cops.  In these cases, whether the defendant's conduct was reasonably likely to affect the public is usually in dispute and may constitute a legal defense.
  • Self-defense - Sometimes a defendant will be physically attacked in public and he will fight back.  By the time the police show up, it's not clear who started the fight and the cops might decide to arrest everyone.  In these cases, the defendant can argue to the jury that he was simply defending himself and should not be convicted of any crime.
  • Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor and a first offense does not carry a jail sentence.  Prosecutors with heavy caseloads are sometimes eager to get rid of these cases, and might offer to dismiss them if the defendant is willing to pay court costs or perform community service.  This is usually a good deal for the defendant, because it removes any possibility of a conviction.  It's important to avoid a conviction on a first offense, because a conviction for a subsequent offense will subject the defendant to more serious penalties.  While it's possible for a defendant to be charged only with disorderly conduct, usually a disorderly conduct charge is tacked on to a case charging other more serious crimes such as assault and battery on a police officer or resisting arrest.  In these cases, the Commonwealth will sometimes offer to dismiss the more serious crimes if the defendant will plead guilty to disorderly conduct.  It's important for a defendant consider the potential future consequences before entering into this type of plea.

If you are charged with a criminal offense, you should hire an attorney to represent you in court.  This is true regardless of how minor you consider the charges to be.  You will be at a distinct disadvantage if you decide to represent yourself, and neither the prosecutor nor the judge is going to cut you any slack if you don't have a lawyer.  If you have been charged with any crime, including disorderly conduct, contact Attorney Spring immediately to schedule a free consultation.  Make sure you understand all your options before you go to court.

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