What is Disorderly Conduct? Will I Go to Jail in Massachusetts?

When it comes to most types of criminal misconduct, such as drunk driving, selling heroin, or spousal abuse, the act itself is a crime. Drunk driving is a criminal offense in MA, with specific penalties based on the circumstances surrounding the case. But what about behavior that only becomes criminal under certain circumstances? Take shouting, for example. On its own, shouting isn’t a criminal offense. But shouting on a residential street at three a.m. may be.

To keep communities calm and running smoothly, MA limits what people can do by imposing certain laws meant to “keep the peace.” When a person’s conduct jeopardizes that peace, his or her behavior may be prosecuted as disorderly conduct, a criminal offense. It’s no surprise that disorderly conduct charges are especially common when groups of rowdy, intoxicated people gather. Music concerts, outdoor festivals, and sporting events are infamous for resulting in at least a few charges of disorderly conduct. A MA defense lawyer can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with any type of crime.

Examples of Disorderly Conduct

Laws differ among states, but in MA a first offense of disorderly conduct or “disturbing the peace” is punishable with a fine of up to $150. Jail time is not likely. If, however, you are convicted of this crime more than once, you may face up to six months in jail and steeper fines. Disorderly conduct can take many forms, but some of the most common examples include:

  • Shouting in a residential neighborhood late at night
  • Public urination
  • Lewd public conduct, such as public masturbation or exposing oneself
  • Fighting or brawling: Bar fights and scuffles are often charged as disorderly conduct, but assault and battery charges may apply in more serious cases.
  • Un-peaceful protests: Although our right to peaceful protest is protected by the constitution, protests that become disruptive are not. Disruptive can mean anything from throwing things to participating in a sit-in that blocks traffic.
  • Disturbing an assembly: It is unlawful to disturb or interrupt a public rally, religious ceremony, or city council meeting.
  • Arguing with police in a threatening way: It is not unlawful to argue with a police officer, but it’s another story if the officer feels threatened.

Does anyone have to be offended or threatened by public misconduct in order for a disorderly conduct charge to be justified? In most cases, the answer is no. When it comes to disorderly conduct laws, courts apply an objective standard. In other words, if a reasonable person would have been offended or alarmed by the behavior, the charge will likely stand. A Boston defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with disorderly conduct.

What is a Public Area?

Certain types of behavior, such as urination and masturbation, that are acceptable in private are not acceptable in a public area. So what is considered a public area? In some cases, the answer is obvious. A shopping center, restaurant, and elementary school are all public places. But what about less obvious spaces, such as public restrooms and private buildings not owned by the individual? Courts generally consider public restrooms (including stalls) to be public. The same goes for private buildings that are available for public use or rental. Even if the conduct occurs in the individual’s private home, a disorderly conduct charge may still apply if others are disturbed. For example, shouting in your home at 3 a.m. may be loud enough to wake the next door neighbors. If the noise becomes disruptive, you may end up with a disorderly conduct charge.

Altman & Altman, LLP – Criminal Defense Law Firm Serving Boston and the Surrounding Areas

If you have been charged with any type of criminal offense, the skilled legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been protecting the rights of individuals charged with crimes for more than 50 years. Our experienced, knowledgeable attorneys have an impressive track record of getting clients’ charges reduced or dismissed, and we want to help you. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.






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