In our opinion, Virginia’s Disorderly Conduct statute is confusing, and people find themselves charged even though their behavior may not meet the legal definition. This is especially prevalent in cases dealing with juvenile defendants. If you or someone you know is charged with disorderly conduct, it’s important to contact an attorney to protect your rights. In the meantime, here’s some useful information to consider:
How does the Virginia Code define disorderly conduct?
Virginia’s Disorderly Statute is Section 18.2-415. Stated another when, you are guilty of disorderly when:
You intend to cause or create a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm; and you meet one of the additional elements: 1) engage in conduct that has a direct tendency to cause violence by the person(s) you direct your conduct at; or 2) are intoxicated in public and it disrupts a funeral, memorial service, or political meeting; or 3) are intoxicated and it disrupts the operation of a school or activity sponsored by a school.
What does it mean to engage in “conduct that has a direct tendency to cause violence?”
Virginia’s Disorderly Conduct statute is confusing. Therefore, often times, people are charged simply because there is some sort of physical altercation or uncomfortable scene in public.
That said, the Courts do limit the meaning of disorderly conduct. In doing so, the courts hone in on what it means to “engage in conduct that has a direct tendency to cause violence.”
In Keys v. City of Va. Beach, 16 va. app. 198 (1993), the court found a defendant did engage in conduct having a direct tendency to cause violence when he screamed at an officer, “you aint going to do nothing…get a real policeman.” The defendant also “put her hands down…balled her fists…and straighten up…” In response, the officer believed the defendant was “going to fight.”
In Ford v. City of Newport News, 23 va. app. 137 (1996), however, the court found that the defendant did not engage in conducting tending to cause violence. There, law enforcement approached the defendant who was pushing his bike along a street. In response, the defendant threw his arms up in the air and yelled loudly enough for neighbors to hear, “I’m tired of this s***, the cops in Hampton do the same thing.” In it’s finding the court reasoned that, “while the defendant’s remarks lacked civility…” his act of throwing his arms in the air could not reasonable way cause or incite the officers to violence.
While neither Keys nor Ford provide a “scientific” definition of disorderly conduct, they do prove useful guideposts to consider.
What if the alleged conduct should have been another Virginia criminal charge?
While the Virginia disorderly conduct charge is vague, in Subsection C, it does contain interesting language when someone engages in activity that should have caused another charge:
However, the conduct prohibited under subdivision A, B or C of this section shall not be deemed to include the utterance or display of any words or to include conduct otherwise made punishable under this title.
Stated another way, if you could have been charged with another crime, it’s possible that you’re not guilty of disorderly conduct under Subsection C.
Case in point is Battle v. Commonwealth, 50 Va. App. (2007). There, the defendant’s disorderly conduct charge with reversed where he was kicked out of a club because he was blocking the entrance. When he was told to leave because of being aggressive with a friend, he refused, cursed so loudly that spit came out of his mouth, and continued to refuse to leave when warned that he’d be arrested for disorderly. Because there were other charges (such as assault, cursing, or obstruction of passage) that the defendant, could have been charged with, he was not guilty of disorderly.
As you can see, disorderly conduct is a vague and complex charge. Therefore, it’s important that you speak to an attorney before simply pleading guilty to it. It’s a criminal misdemeanor and should be taken seriously. If you’ve been charged with disorderly conduct, give Abrenio Law a call for a free consultation at 703.570.4180. You can also learn more about Owner James abrenio here.