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Pulling a Fire Alarm Can Result in Disorderly Conduct Charges

Posted on October 29, 2021 in

Although pulling a false fire alarm might seem like a harmless prank, it is a crime under Massachusetts law. You or your teenager could be charged with the crime of disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace, which can result in fines and even jail time, depending on the circumstances. If you or your child was over the age of 18 when you pulled a false fire alarm, the consequences can be even more severe.

What Are the Penalties for Pulling a False Fire Alarm? Can You Go to Jail?

Pulling a fire alarm is not a joke. A fire alarm is a safety device that can save lives in the event of a fire hazard. Making a fire alarm go off under false pretenses is similar to yelling, “Fire!” in a crowded place. It can cause panic, trampling, injuries and property damage. For this reason, Massachusetts and most other states have laws in place prohibiting pulling a false fire alarm. 

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 269, Section 13 specifically prohibits false alarms of fire. It defines this offense as an outcry, the ringing of bells or other actions to make or circulate a false alarm of fire without a reasonable cause. It states that the punishment for this offense is at least a $100 fine but no more than $500, and/or imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for up to one year.

False Fire Alarms as Disorderly Conduct

In Massachusetts, pulling a fire alarm can also fall under the umbrella of disorderly conduct. This can result in a jail sentence, although the sentence is lighter than a conviction under the state’s law for false alarms of fire. According to Chapter 272, Section 53 of the law, disorderly conduct (also known as disturbing the peace) refers to offensive and disorderly acts or language that accosts or annoys another person. This definition can include pulling a false fire alarm. 

State law says that for a first-offense disorderly conduct conviction, the punishment is a fine of up to $150. For a second or subsequent offense, the penalties increase to include potential jail time or a sentence at a correctional facility. Imprisonment for this crime will be for no more than six months. Note, however, that this statute does not apply to minors at an elementary or secondary school for conduct within school grounds or in the course of school-related events. If a child pulls a false fire alarm at school, therefore, he or she most likely will not face criminal charges.

What to Expect From the Legal Process

If you or a loved one gets charged with pulling a false fire alarm or disorderly conduct, you may be arrested and brought to the nearest police station for booking. This means you will have your mugshots and fingerprints taken. You will have the chance to make a phone call, which you should use to contact a criminal defense attorney for legal advice. You may be released after booking to await your arraignment hearing or you may be held in jail until a judge can enter charges against you.

At your first hearing, you will hear the exact charges being brought and enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest. A Woburn criminal defense lawyer can give you advice about which plea to enter based on your situation. If you plead guilty or no contest, you will be given your sentence by a judge at a separate hearing. If you plead not guilty, your case will go to trial, where you or your lawyer can assert a defense against the charges, such as wrong defendant, alibi, lack of intent or no crime committed. 

When to Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Middlesex County

Disorderly conduct is a serious crime that can permanently remain on a defendant’s record. The right defense strategy could protect you or your child from the most serious penalties that are possible for pulling a false fire alarm in Massachusetts. When your future is on the line, it is critical to contact a qualified attorney to represent you during the criminal justice process. Contact the Middlesex County criminal defense attorneys of Spring & Spring today for more information.