Disorderly conduct is a common charge in North Carolina but is defined in such a way that it covers a broad range of behavior. This gives law enforcement a substantial amount of leeway to charge you with something that you might not even realize is illegal. The potential consequences of a conviction may be serious, which is why you need the experience of Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, in your corner.
What Is “Disorderly Conduct”?
Also known as disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct is an offense which covers the following:
- Fighting, engaging in violent conduct or engaging in conduct that creates a threat of imminent violence
- Making or using any utterance, gesture, display, or abusive language that is intended and is likely to incite violence
- Taking possession or control over a public building or facility without permission
- Refusing to vacate a public building or facility after being ordered to do so
- Blocking access to a building or preventing its normal operations
- Disrupting a class or disturbing the operation of a school or school bus
- Disrupting the conduct of a religious institution
- Disrupting a funeral or memorial service
Each of these has additional qualifications and elements, but it is pretty clear that “disorderly conduct” can apply to many different behaviors. It is not uncommon for law enforcement to use the charge as a catch-all for people they deem to be annoying. Nor is it uncommon to simply have the charge tacked on with others in hopes of having something against the defendant stick.
The above list is fairly vague. However, criminal defense attorneys know there are several types of activities where disorderly conduct charges are likely to be made. For example, protests, sit-ins, and other demonstrations can quickly turn rowdy and easily land someone in jail with a disorderly conduct charge.
A person charged with disorderly conduct is likely to also be charged with the following related offenses:
- Drunk and disorderly conduct
- Failure to disperse
- Resisting arrest
What Are The Consequences of a Conviction?
First-time offenders will be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to 60 days in jail plus a fine of up to $1,000. If you have a clean criminal record, you may be given probation instead of an active jail sentence. However, subsequent disorderly conduct charges can result in you being charged with a far more serious felony. No matter what sort of charge you are facing, having an attorney makes it more likely that the judge will grant you leniency.
Make no mistake, however. Even a misdemeanor can have serious repercussions for you in the form of a criminal record. Long after your case is closed, your fine is paid, and your sentence is served, you will have a criminal record. This record can follow you through school, housing, and your career. As an at-will employment state, employers have a wide amount of discretion in who they may hire and fire. Employers often refuse to hire someone with a criminal record, even if it’s only a misdemeanor, regardless of the underlying facts. And if you are already employed and are arrested – not even necessarily charged – you may lose your job.
Colleges and universities do not look kindly on these charges either, especially considering that disorderly conduct often occurs on campus. As a student, you may be facing disciplinary actions for participating in a demonstration or other event where things got out of hand. The simple truth is, a conviction or even an arrest can have lifelong negative consequences for you.
What Do I Do If I’ve Been Arrested For Disorderly Conduct?
First and foremost, you don’t want to add anything else to your charges. That means don’t resist arrest, and above all, exercise your right to remain silent. Anything that you say to the police may be used against you later, so clearly ask to speak with an attorney and do not volunteer any information.
Depending on the circumstances in your case, you may have several potential defense tactics at your disposal. For example, it is well known that disorderly conduct charges are often made when the police cannot find anything else to charge defendants with. Due to the broad nature of North Carolina’s criminal statutes, the charge can be and often is abused. The activity for which you were arrested may not even be covered by the statute. In cases like these, it is generally easier to challenge the allegation.
You may be able to argue that you were exercising your First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble, protest, and engage in free speech. Protests can involve many people, not all of whom have good intentions. If someone else at the protest is disturbing the peace, you may be wrongfully arrested even though you were not breaking the law. And in some cases, such as flag burning, an arresting officer may mistake your protected free speech for criminal activity.
Every case is different and will turn largely on the facts, which may be complicated. That is why having a skilled criminal defense attorney is vital. Your attorney will conduct a thorough investigation of the incident, review the police report, and examine any physical evidence such as photographs or videos. These events often involved a lot of people, which means there’s a good chance there are witnesses who can testify (for example) that you were not involved. The right lawyer understands the state’s criminal statutes and knows what sort of evidence can be used to exonerate you.
Contact Our Experienced Carteret County Disorderly Conduct Attorney
Criminal charges of any kind can be frightening, especially if you are a first-time offender. Don’t let the criminal justice system overwhelm you. Call Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, today to discuss your case.