In Georgia, prosecutors use disorderly conduct charges for a wide variety of conduct. Most municipal cities, as well as the state law provide for disorderly conduct as a criminal offense. Depending on whether the charge is under the city or state law, punishment can range from a fine, as well as 6-12 months in jail. This article will help you decipher the basics about disorderly conduct charges and how to handle these charges if you are facing them. Read this article for the basics, then call us.
Disorderly Conduct Charges Under Georgia State Law
Under Georgia law, disorderly conduct can be prosecuted in the following instances:
- If you act in a violent manner that places another in fear for their safety
- If you act in a violent manner that places someone in fear you will damage or destroy their property
- Using fighting words
- If you use obscene language in the presence of someone under 14 years old that threatens an immediate breach of the peace
As you can see, under state law, there appears to be two main types of actions that could constitute disorderly conduct: (1) violent actions and (2) obscene/threating language.
Most often, in state law prosecutions, disorderly conduct is used in context of fights, or sometimes as a lesser charge to fighting charges. The disorderly conduct fighting words charge is looked at subjectively. In other words, there is no list of words or phrases that can be either fighting words or vulgar, but a judge or jury must decide, given the surrounding circumstances.
City Ordinance Disorderly Conduct
Even though Georgia law punishes only the four types of actions above, cities are free to expand their definition of disorderly conduct, and many have. For example, the city of Sandy Springs considers disorderly conduct any of the following:
- Fighting or acting in a violent manner
- Gaming or gambling
- Engaging in fraud
- Illegal alcohol and drug sales
- Obstructing people or traffic
- Acting in a disruptive manner at certain places
The City of Atlanta's disorderly conduct code 106-81 states it is illegal to:
(1) Act in a violent or tumultuous manner toward another whereby any person is placed in fear of the safety of such person's life, limb or health;
(2) Act in a violent or tumultuous manner toward another whereby the property of any person is placed in danger of being damaged or destroyed;
(3) Cause, provoke or engage in any fight, brawl or riotous conduct so as to endanger the life, limb, health or property of another;
(4) Assemble or congregate with another or others for the purpose of, or with the intent to, engage in gaming;
(5) Be in or about any place, alone or with another or others, with the purpose of or intent to engage in any fraudulent scheme, trick or device to obtain any money or valuable thing; or to aid or abet any person or persons in doing so;
(6) Direct fighting words toward another, that is, words which by their very nature tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace;
(7) Interfere, by acts of physical obstruction, another's pursuit of a lawful occupation;
(8) Congregate with another or others in or on any public way so as to halt the flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic, and to fail to clear that public way after being ordered to do so by a city police officer or other lawful authority;
(9) Stand or remain in or about any street, sidewalk, overpass or public way so as to impede the flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic, and to fail to clear such street, sidewalk, overpass or public way after being ordered to do so by a police officer or other lawful authority;
(10) Disrupt by actions which tend to incite a breach of the peace the undisturbed activities of any house of worship, hospital, surgi-center, or home for the elderly; or
(11) Throw bottles, paper, cans, glass, sticks, stones, missiles or any other debris on public property.
(12) Accost or force oneself upon the company of another;
As you can see, both of these cities' disorderly conduct laws are more comprehensive than the state law version of the law, and leave prosecutors with wide discretion when bringing charges. On local ordinance charges, the maximum punishment is 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. What many people do not realize is that this jail possibility can create the obligation to be placed on probation, which will require payments, drug and alcohol screens, and other special conditions.
Defenses and Negotiation Strategies for Disorderly Conduct Cases
When we defend a disorderly conduct charge, we treat it just as seriously as any other criminal charge in Georgia. Beware: cities love using this charge and usually have a legal argument to prevent you from transferring your case to the county court. This, in turn, means you could get stuck defending your charge in a municipal court, all but at the mercy of their prosecutor. Cities can often be heavy handed, asking for steep fines, intensive probation, and even jail time on disorderly conduct cases. In our experience, state law charges don't usually carry as much potential for outrageous punishment, though state law charges will remain on your record forever.
Depending on the type of disorderly charge you are facing, our goals will be to clean your record, and have the charges dismissed, if at all possible. If your case is in a city court, we know what to look for and the safeguards to take to ensure your record stays at the city, rather than the state level. If you do have state charges, we understand what prosecutors are looking for and proactive steps you can take to aide us in your defense.
Next Steps After Being Cited for Disorderly Conduct
Don't fall victim to under estimating the potential consequences of a disorderly conduct case. If you have been cited for disorderly conduct, either under city or state law give our office a call today to discuss how we will defend your case and clear your name. Disorderly conduct charges have too many variables, and can have life-long consequences if you are found guilty or even plead under the wrong circumstances. Both of our lawyers practice exclusively criminal defense and are available 24/7 to discuss your defense.