Disorderly Conduct: What to Know When You’re Charged with “Breaching the Peace”
What is “Disorderly Conduct?”
The definition of “Disorderly Conduct” under Florida State law is when an individual disturbs the peace and quiet of the public, outrages public decency, or engages in fighting. The offense is classified as a second-degree misdemeanor, with penalties that may include jail, probation, and the creation of a permanent criminal record.
“Disorderly Conduct,” or “breach of the peace,” is found under Section 877.03 of the Florida Statutes. This offense includes any and all acts deemed sufficient to “corrupt the public morals,” “outrage the sense of public decency,” or “affect the peace and quiet of persons” who observe or are impacted by the act. This offense also includes brawling, fighting, and general physical misconduct. It is important to note that the determinants of this charge are extremely broad, which is why it is always important to have a trusted attorney review your individual case in the context of its larger implications.
Possible Penalties if You’ve “Breached the Peace”
The penalties for disorderly conduct or breach of the peace include up to sixty (60) days in jail or six (6) months of probation, in addition to a $500.00 fine. Bear in mind, however, that these are the statutory maximums that are available for the charge and charges can depend on your criminal history. This is why it is critical you consult an attorney for your case. If you are a first time offender the real risk, however, is the creation of a permanent criminal record. This can significantly impact your life moving forward when it comes to job, social, and economic pursuits.
Disorderly conduct is one of the most defendable charges in all of Florida criminal law. Despite the broad wording of the statute, a conviction generally cannot stand where the accused merely creates an annoyance, uses profanity, causes a crowd to gather, or displays a belligerent attitude. Simple verbal misconduct is also an insufficient basis for a conviction.
Verbal Conduct- The Protection of Your First Amendment Right to Freedom of Speech
Where a defendant engages in purely verbal conduct, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution limits the application of Florida’s disorderly conduct statute to so-called “fighting words” or “words like shouts of ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”
“Fighting words” are words, which, by their very invocation, inflict injury or immediately disturb the peace. This contrasts with “shouts of ‘fire’” in that, the latter, refers to false invocations or claims, known to be false, and carry physical harm in their definition. It is important to note that words, themselves, are insufficient to carry a conviction for disorderly conduct.
Loudness and Belligerence
As noted previously, words alone are insufficient to carry the charge of disorderly conduct or breach of the peace to conviction. Similarly, merely yelling or acting in a belligerent way is not a sufficient condition for carrying this charge to conviction.
Although this is commonly invoked as a legal defense for charges such as disorderly conduct or breach of the peace, that does not take away from its validity. This defense strategy only applies if the defendant did not provoke the fight or scene themselves. Once evidence of self-defense has been established, the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense falls on the State to sustain a conviction.
Why You Need Legal Representation in this Case
The umbrella of “disorderly conduct” and “breach of the peace” is purposefully vague and there are many nuances of a potential case to consider before moving forward. My experience as an Assistant State Attorney has exposed me to numerous types of these cases and their commonality lies in their differences. Given the numerous defenses available to contest these charges, an attorney is a vital asset for avoiding a conviction.
If you have question about your disorderly conduct of breach of the peace case please call my office at 407-415-9626 or email me at Jeremiah@JeremiahDAllen.com.