In Arizona, the criminal charge of disorderly conduct is quite prevalent. Members of law enforcement frequently arrest individuals for this charge because they believe that it can fit into numerous circumstances and doesn’t require too much evidence.
Some people may refer to the criminal offense of disorderly conduct as ‘disturbing the peace.’ You can be arrested for disorderly conduct if you cause a public commotion, recklessly display or handle a firearm, engage in a fight or any other form of disruptive behavior, or fail to leave an area upon being directed by a police officer.
Disorderly conduct is usually charged as a misdemeanor. However, you may be charged with disorderly conduct as a felony if you recklessly display or handle a firearm or any other weapon that is considered potentially dangerous or harmful.
If you or your loved one has been charged with disorderly conduct in Phoenix, we invite you to contact us for a free case evaluation. We at the Phoenix Criminal Attorney are the go-to law firm if you would like to be represented by a competent and reliable attorney who practices exclusively criminal defense.
We’ve helped numerous individuals charged with disorderly conduct resolve their cases, protect their records, and obtain favorable outcomes. When you retain us, you may not have to attend most of the court hearings. We will represent you in all the preliminary hearings, and continuously keep you updated of any developments.
The Legal Definition of Disorderly Conduct
According to A.R.S. 13-2904, an individual can be charged with the criminal offense of disorderly conduct in six different situations. These situations include:
Engaging in fighting or any other form of violent or disruptive behavior
Making unreasonable noise
Using offensive or abusive language or gesturing to another person in a way that can provoke him/her to retaliate physically
Making any form of protracted commotion, display, or utterance with an intention to disrupt a lawful gathering, meeting, or procession
Not obeying an order issued by law enforcement to disperse or leave a particular area for the maintenance of public safety or as a response to a hazard, fire, or any other emergency
Recklessly displaying, handling, or discharging a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon
Let’s discuss each of these situations briefly:
Fighting or any other Form of Violent or Disruptive Behavior
You can be arrested for disorderly conduct if you participate in a public fight. Public fights can cause a lot of commotion and societal unrest. When you fight in public, you may attract attention from other individuals, who may call the police for help.
If you physically injure another person in a public fight, you may be charged with the offense of battery instead of disorderly conduct. Moreover, if you had threatened your victim with imminent danger, you may find yourself facing charges of assault. Assault and battery have more grievous penalties in comparison to disorderly conduct.
The term ‘violent or disruptive behavior’ refers to any form of conduct that disturbs, prevents, or interferes with normal and lawful activities. Some examples of violent or disruptive behaviors include yelling, waving fists or arms, throwing things recklessly, and intentionally destroying property, among others.
Note that the jury can only convict you of disorderly conduct because of fighting or disruptive or violent behavior if the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you acted willfully and deliberately. You will not be held guilty if you acted in self-defense.
The Arizona Department of Prosecution can charge you with disorderly conduct due to unreasonable noise if you:
maliciously and willfully cause loud noise
this noise disturbed someone else
For you to be convicted for disorderly conduct because of unreasonable noise, the prosecutor should prove that you had a clear intention to annoy another person. In some situations, the prosecutor may be required to establish that you utilized the noise to disrupt a lawful activity, and you were not just communicating. For instance, if a person is talking loudly while inside his/her house, he/she will not be convicted for disorderly conduct. However, if the person sees a police officer chasing a suspect and shouts loudly to distract him/her so that the suspect cannot be apprehended, he/she can receive a conviction for disorderly conduct.
Offensive or Abusive Language
For you to be convicted of disorderly conduct via abusive or offensive language, the prosecution should prove the elements listed below:
You utilized words that were most likely to provoke the victim to react violently
You used these words while in a public place
The court will use a reasonable test to determine whether the words you said could provoke a violent reaction from the victim. Also, the prosecutor must show that there was imminent danger that the victim could have reacted violently.
Take note that it is not a requirement for the prosecutor to show that you had an intention to make the victim react violently. Additionally, you will not be convicted for this crime if you had reasonably believed that your words wouldn’t provoke the alleged victim to react violently.
Apart from abusive or offensive language, you can still be convicted for disorderly conduct if you gesture to another person in a manner that would make him/her react violently. Some examples of gestures that are normally considered to be offensive and can provoke a person to react violently include:
The middle finger – Although some people may refer to this gesture as the ‘universal sign of democracy,’ most Americans consider it to be offensive. Therefore, if you do not agree with another person, don’t give him/her the middle finger, or you may provoke a violent reaction.
The pinky wave – If you wave your little finger at a man, it is insinuated that you are claiming that he has a small penis. Generally, this gesture is considered to be obscene, and it can make a person react violently.
The chin flick – Some people may consider the act of flicking your hand underneath the chin as offensive, making them react violently.
Pointing at your forehead – If you are angry and you point at your forehead, the person whom you are talking to may believe that you are claiming that he/she is crazy. This can make him/her react violently, depending on the nature of your conversation.
The V sign – Most American women feel offended if you flick your tongue in between your middle finger and your ring finger. This gesture insinuates that you are calling someone else a tramp.
Protracted Commotion, Display, or Utterance
A.R.S. 13-2904 states that it is an unlawful act to engage in any form of protracted commotion, display, or utterance to disrupt a lawful meeting, gathering, or procession. If you do so, you can be arrested and convicted for disorderly conduct.
However, most people have claimed that this section of the law can contribute to an infringement of the First Amendment freedom of speech and assembly. This is because it gives police officers enormous discretion and power to declare that certain kinds of protests are unlawful.
Due to this, the court can only convict you of disorderly conduct via disrupting a meeting if the prosecution proves that you substantially and deliberately impaired the primary function of the gathering. Also, the prosecutor must show that it is your behavior which disrupted the meeting, and not your message.
Not Obeying Law Enforcement Orders to Disperse or Leave
According to A.R.S. 13-2904, it is unlawful to fail to obey law enforcement orders to disperse or leave from a particular area. Sometimes, local, state, and national governmental agencies may impose curfews, lockdowns, or general restrictions on movement to maintain public safety and security. Also, the police may order crowds to disperse or individuals to leave certain places in the event of an emergency.
If you fail to comply with the police in these situations, you may be arrested for disorderly conduct. You can also be arrested for disorderly conduct if you fail to obey other law enforcement officials, including deputy sheriffs, members of the fire department, state troopers, and E.M.T. responders.
For you to be convicted for disorderly conduct via disobeying law enforcement orders, the prosecution must establish the following elements:
The order given was lawful and reasonable
You knew that you were defying a law enforcement officer
The court will not convict you for disorderly conduct if the order given was unlawful, or wasn’t reasonable enough in regards to the situation that was present. Moreover, if the status of the officer issuing it was unclear, you will not be held guilty.
Recklessly Displaying, Handling, or Discharging a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon
If you recklessly display, handle, or discharge a deadly or dangerous weapon, the Arizona Department of Prosecution may charge you with disorderly conduct. In some instances, the prosecutor may opt to charge you with assault instead of disorderly conduct. If you killed another person while discharging a deadly weapon, you might be charged with manslaughter or murder.
The term ‘deadly or dangerous weapon’ refers to any object that is primarily designed to inflict death or a severe physical injury to another person. Most people believe that a firearm is the only weapon that is considered deadly or dangerous by Arizona law enforcement. This belief is not true. There are other items that are considered to be deadly or dangerous weapons, too, including knives, broken bottles, swords, daggers, heavy and blunt objects, gardening tools, and power tools.
For the court to punish you for disorderly conduct due to reckless handling of a deadly weapon, the prosecutor must prove that you had an intention to induce fear to another person. You will not receive a conviction if you adduce enough evidence to show that you acted in self-defense.
The Penalties for Disorderly Conduct
Generally, the criminal offense of disorderly conduct is classified as a class 1 misdemeanor. Class 1 misdemeanors are the highest in rank among other Arizona misdemeanors, and they carry grievous penalties, including:
A jail term of a maximum of six months
A probation term of up to five years
Fines and penalty assessments fees, whose total value may be up to $2,500
However, a criminal charge of disorderly conduct involving a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon is categorized as a class 6 felony. Convicts for this type of charge may have to serve a state prison sentence of 1.5 – 3 years.
Legal Defenses to Disorderly Conduct
Typically, defense strategies for disorderly conduct are usually centered on the unavailability of evidence. In most situations of disorderly conduct, the prosecution may find it challenging to find someone willing to testify against the accused person. This is because the individuals who may have called the police could become disinterested in pursuing the case after some time.
For instance, if you had engaged in a fight at a restaurant, the most likely witnesses would be the restaurant’s workers and patrons who had seen you fighting. Law enforcement may find it hard to contact these people, or they may have even traveled out-of-state. Moreover, most people wouldn’t want to spend their time participating in criminal hearings, because they have their own personal interests to pursue.
Besides the unavailability of evidence, your lawyer can raise other legal defenses on your behalf to enable you to become acquitted. Note that each situation of disorderly conduct is unique and subjective, and there isn’t any one-fit-size defense strategy. This is why you must speak to a lawyer when you have been charged with disorderly conduct. Below, we discuss the most common legal defenses to disorderly conduct in Arizona:
You will most likely use this defense if the prosecution has insufficient evidence, and you have got several witnesses who are willing to testify in your favor to discredit the prosecution's evidence. The court will dismiss your charges if it finds out that the prosecution doesn't have concrete proof.
Freedom of Speech and Assembly
The defense of freedom of speech under the First Amendment applies to disorderly conduct charges. But, you can only use this defense if you prove that your words couldn’t have provoked a reasonable person to fight or react violently.
This defense is most effective in situations where an individual is charged with disorderly conduct via disrupting a meeting, procession, or gathering. This is especially if the accused person has sufficient evidence to prove that he/she was only expressing an opinion, and had no intention to disturb the peace.
Certain instances can prevent the prosecutor from pursuing the case. For example, if the charge was filed at the wrong forum or the statute of limitations has expired, the court will dismiss it.
In some situations for disorderly conduct, the prosecutor will be required to prove that you had a criminal intention. In these situations, if you can convince the jury that you didn’t have the intention to commit an act of disorderly conduct, you will be acquitted. You can tell the jury that you committed the crime of disorderly conduct accidentally, or you were just mistaken.
Take note that the court will utilize the objective standard test to ascertain whether you had a criminal intention. By the application of this test, the court does not need evidence to know that your conduct was intended to disturb the peace or make other individuals upset.
No Criminal Act
A.R.S. 13-2904 is quite broad and ambiguous. In some situations, this statute's vague and broad language can help you as a defendant.
Your lawyer can explain to the court the shortcomings of your conduct, in comparison to previous judicial decisions that interpret disorderly conduct. For instance, there is a distinct difference between merely rude words and offensive language. You cannot be convicted for disorderly conduct via offensive language if you were only rude, and your words didn’t provoke or threaten another person.
Generally, Arizona courts can’t stretch this statute to convict individuals who have behavioral and psychological problems. You cannot be classified as a criminal simply because you acted rudely or without control or respect, and the prosecution needs to prove that the victim felt provoked or threatened.
Defense of Self and Defense of Others
According to A.R.S. 13-404, it is justifiable to use physical force or threaten another person to protect yourself and your loved ones from imminent danger. However, the threat used or physical force applied must be directly proportional to the degree and extent of the impending harm. Therefore, you can plead self-defense or defense of others if you have sufficient evidence to show that you or your loved ones were facing imminent danger when you committed the alleged act of disorderly conduct.
Related Offenses to Disorderly Conduct
Various offenses are related to disorderly conduct. In some situations, the Arizona Department of Prosecution may charge them instead of, or alongside, disorderly conduct. Some of these offenses include the following:
Assault – A.R.S. 13-1203
Resisting arrest – A.R.S. 13-2508
Trespass – A.R.S. 13-1502, 13-1503, & 13-1504
Rioting – A.R.S. 13-2903
Contact a Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
We at the Phoenix Criminal Attorney have extensive experience in handling disorderly conduct cases. Call us today at 602-551-8092 for a free case evaluation.