Disorderly Conduct

Have You Been Charged with Disorderly Conduct in Georgia?

Have You Been Arrested for Disorderly Conduct in Georgia? 

Disorderly Conduct is perhaps one of the most commonly charged offenses.  Disorderly Conduct is a catchall provision in the state of Georgia, and is often used by officers when confronted with a person they wish to detain whether for the purposes of public safety or to prevent you from further interfering with an investigation or to simply “teach you a lesson.” It seems to be used by police officers when they are simply upset at the conduct of a person. It's a catchall because most of the time the person charged hasn't actually broken any law.  Quite frankly, it's usually the offense of "irritating the police," and it should never be charged in the first place. 

The offense of Disorderly Conduct is committed when a person:

(1) Acts in a violent or tumultuous manner toward another person whereby such person is placed in reasonable fear of the safety of such person's life, limb, or health;

(2) Acts in a violent or tumultuous manner toward another person whereby the property of such person is placed in danger of being damaged or destroyed;

(3) Without provocation, uses to or of another person in such other person's presence, opprobrious or abusive words which by their very utterance tend to incite to an immediate breach of the peace, that is to say, words which as a matter of common knowledge and under ordinary circumstances will, when used to or of another person in such other person's presence, naturally tend to provoke violent resentment, that is, words commonly called "fighting words"; or

(4) Without provocation, uses obscene and vulgar or profane language in the presence of or by telephone to a person under the age of 14 years which threatens an immediate breach of the peace.

The Penalties for Disorderly Conduct In Georgia:

Disorderly Conduct is a misdemeanor offense in Georgia and is punishable by a maximum of 12 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.  The sentencing judge has the discretion, though, to sentence you to a period of probation instead of any jail time, as well as some combination of a fine, community service, or an alcohol awareness class.

Disorderly Conduct is considered an offense against the public order, privacy, or safety. Other crimes in this category are treason, rioting, and fighting.

Another associated offense is Obstruction of a Law Enforcement Officer and in many cases both are charged from the same incident. Obstruction of a Law Enforcement Officer requires that you knowingly and willfully obstruct or hinder an officer in the lawful discharge of his official duties. Most commonly, a charge of Obstruction of a Law Enforcement Officer stems from a person running when confronted by police.  If the officer had a legitimate reason for stopping or questioning you, you cannot flee or otherwise hinder his investigation.  Resisting arrest is also a common act leading to an Obstruction charge. Lying or giving false information to a police officer is also considered Obstruction.  Pushing or shoving, even when the acts do not result in injury or harm to the officer, can support a felony Obstruction charge.

For speech to rise to the level of obstruction, it must be reasonably interpreted to be a threat of violence to the officer, which would amount to obstruction or hindrance. Warning the subject of an investigation or inciting others to interfere and to hinder an investigation can constitute verbal obstruction. Disorderly Conduct can arise from a threat of violence toward a person or property, use of “fighting words,” or the use of obscene, vulgar, or profane language in the presence of someone under 14.

Examples of Disorderly Conduct in Georgia Case Law:

State law no longer criminalizes the use of unprovoked language threatening an immediate breach of peace, which is obscene, vulgar, or profane, that is directed to a person older than 14 years of age, unless such language also constitutes "fighting words." Lundgren v. State, 238 Ga. App. 425 (1999). For the use of obscene words to constitute a disturbance of the peace, it must be made in the presence of a member of the "public" and not merely a police officer. This means that simply arguing with a police officer or using foul language in the presence of an officer does not constitute Disorderly Conduct. Being rude and disrespectful, or angry in conjunction with the use of profanity or an angry statement is not sufficient to support a conviction for Disorderly Conduct if nothing said during the incident threatened an immediate breach of the peace or would have incited a listener to react violently to the language.

In Woodward v. Gray, 241 Ga. App. 847 (2000), the court ruled that a woman's behavior did not rise to the level of Disorderly Conduct when she yelled loudly in front of a crowd "that was her brother [being arrested]; that she didn't have to go any fucking where"; "you can't tell me what to do[; t]his is public property[;] I pay your fucking salary[; y]ou don't have to, and the hell with you[; t]his is public property[;] I don't have to leave this street[;] I can come over here and find out what's going on." The Court ruled that her language did not constitute “fighting words” in that no derogatory names were directed at the officer, that her conduct did not breach the peace as it was not intended to incite the surrounding crowd, and that the police department's policy for arresting anyone for this type of behavior on a charge of Disorderly Conduct was “a means to control anyone who argues with them or who refuses to follow their orders to leave an area … [and] exceeded the lawful authority of the police.”

In cases involving only the use of offensive language, the Court will examine the words used as well as the circumstances and context in which they were said.   In most cases where fighting words are a sufficient basis for a charge of Disorderly Conduct, the words are uttered in a face-to-face confrontation.  In Turner v. State, 274 Ga. App. 731 (2005), the defendant yelled out “you bastards” as he drove past an officer conducting a traffic stop.  His appealed his conviction for Disorderly Conduct and the conviction was overturned with the Court reasoning that yelling out what otherwise might constitute fighting words does not amount to such when yelled from a moving vehicle.

In another case, a man standing in a crowd began shouting “all cops are dogs” and pointing his finger at a nearby officer.  The Court held that this type of language was fighting words which “naturally tend to provoke violent resentment.” See. Brooks v. State, 166 Ga. App. 704 (1983).

In cases not involving abusive, obscene language or fighting words, the actions of the person must put another person in reasonable fear for his or her safety or fear that his or her property may be damaged or destroyed. In an apparent act of Disorderly Conduct, a man was arrested after waving around a two-foot-long stick with a nail in it near a waitress in a crowded bar.  See Zeger v. State, 306 Ga. App. 474 (2010).

In Dudley v. State, 264 Ga. App. 845 (2003), the defendant was involved in a car accident and was very agitated by the time police arrived.  The man repeatedly cursed and continued to do so after being ordered to stop by an officer.  In front of a large crowd, the officer told the man that he would be arrested if he used one more curse word and the man looked straight at him and said “fuck.”  His conviction for Disorderly Conduct was overturned (though his conviction for Obstruction for punching the officer in the ear was affirmed) because he was not at any time acting in a violent or tumultuous manner toward the officer and the officer did not fear for his safety.

Disorderly Conduct During a DUI Arrest:

In the case of a DUI stop in Georgia, a passenger may risk being arrested for Disorderly Conduct if the passenger gets out of the stopped vehicle to interfere.  A passenger should never get out of the vehicle during a stop unless directed to by the officer.  Many times a passenger is a friend or family member who feels protective of the person being investigated, but getting out of the vehicle can make the situation worse for everyone involved.

An officer is entitled to ensure his own safety and the safety of others, and in the case of a traffic stop, that includes reasonably limiting the movement of bystanders and passengers. If the officer is conducting a DUI investigation, the officer will usually instruct the passenger to remain in the vehicle, and if the passenger attempts to get out, the officer will usually warn the person to get back in the car.  If the passenger gets out of the car again and starts to ask questions, argue, or otherwise interfere the officer may place the passenger under arrest for any number of charges including Disorderly Conduct.

No matter the charge, any arrest can have a life-long effect and will be permanently listed on your criminal history that can be found during a background investigation. Certain cases may be able to be resolved in a way to avoid a conviction being recorded on your criminal history and having the arrest expunged from your record.  Any case involving a serious misdemeanor requires special attention due to the range of consequences the person may face including a permanent criminal record that could follow you for the rest of your life.

There Are Options And Defenses If Charged With Disorderly Conduct in Georgia:

If you are charged or arrested for Disorderly Conduct in Georgia, there are options.  You do not have to plead guilty.  You do not have to have a permanent criminal record.  People make mistakes, and there are alternative outcomes available to you.  Your Georgia DUI Lawyer is uniquely qualified to deal with Disorderly Conduct in Georgia. Your Georgia DUI Attorney can help you deal with this offense and the potential consequences to your future.  Call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for immediate legal help and for Georgia DUI Information as well.

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