What is Disorderly Conduct?
The crime of disorderly conduct in Arizona is classified as either a class 1 misdemeanor or a class 6 felony. In general, it refers to very disruptive behavior that disturbs the peace of another individual or a neighborhood. A common example of this is when a person at a bar or on the street becomes very belligerent and begins to yell and scream loudly during an argument.
Disorderly conduct is often accompanied by alcohol use and threats of fighting, but neither of those are elements of the crime. Because the elements of the crime are written very broadly, a wide range of behavior can fall under the umbrella of “disorderly conduct.” As a result, police can be quick to charge somebody with disorderly conduct when no other obvious crimes have occurred, such as assault or criminal damage.
Felony disorderly conduct is a lesser-included offense of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
A.R.S. § 13-2904 Defined
ARS 13-2904 is the Arizona law that defines disorderly conduct. There are two levels of disorderly conduct: misdemeanor disorderly conduct and felony disorderly conduct. Misdemeanors are lesser crimes than felonies, but both can result in probation and jail time. A conviction for a felony is accompanied by losses of certain civil rights, as well as the potential for prison time.
Misdemeanor disorderly conduct occurs when a person, with “the intent to disturb the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family or person, or with knowledge of doing so”
- Engages in fighting, violent or seriously disruptive behavior; or
- Make unreasonable noise; or
- Use abusive or offensive language or gestures to any person present in a manner likely to provoke immediate physical retaliation by such person; or
- Makes any protracted commotion, utterance or display with the intent to prevent the transaction of the business of a lawful meeting, gathering or procession; or
- Refuses to obey a lawful order to disperse issued to maintain public safety in dangerous proximity to a fire, a hazard or any other emergency.
Disorderly conduct that occurs under any of the above circumstances is classified as a class 1 misdemeanor, which is the highest level of misdemeanor offense.
Felony disorderly conduct occurs when a person, with “the intent to disturb the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family or person, or with knowledge of doing so”
- Recklessly handles, displays or discharges a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.
Felony disorderly conduct is a class 6 felony.
When Do Prosecutors File Charges of Disorderly Conduct?
Defense attorneys often see disorderly conduct charges filed against a person for loud and disruptive behavior in public. This behavior can often be drunken behavior, but intoxication is not required to file disorderly conduct charges. Because alcohol is known to often reduce people’s inhibitions, however, alcohol and disorderly conduct charges can be hand-in-hand, and sometimes people will refer to this charge as “drunk and disorderly” — although that name is not a legal term.
The language of the statute is written very broadly, and a creative prosecutor can cast a wide variety of behavior under the umbrella term of “disorderly conduct.”
Example: If a couple has a loud argument that disturbs their neighbors, they may find themselves charged with disorderly conduct. Getting drunk in a bar or a casino and yelling at staff or fellow patrons can also result in charges. Often, behavior that is aggressive but falls short of simple assault will be charged as disorderly conduct instead.
Furthermore, Arizona courts have held that it is not even required that anybody’s peace of mind was actually disturbed by the behavior, as long as the defendant acted with the “intent” to disturb the peace. State v. Miranda, 200 Ariz. 67 (2001).
Felony disorderly conduct charges may also be lesser-included charges of aggravated assault, if a defendant is being tried for acts that involve pointing a gun at victim.
Penalties for Disorderly Conduct
The penalties for disorderly conduct depend on whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Here are the possible punishments for each:
Misdemeanor Disorderly Conduct:
- Up 6 months in jail.
- Up to $2500 in fines.
- Victim restitution.
Felony Disorderly Conduct (with no prior felony convictions):
- 4 months to 2 years in prison.
- Up to $150,000 in fines.
- Victim restitution.
Felony Disorderly Conduct (with one prior felony conviction):
- 9 months to 2.75 years in prison
- Fines and restitution as above
Felony Disorderly Conduct (with two or more prior felony convictions):
- 2.25 to 5.75 years in prison
- Fines and restitution as above
The prison terms for felony disorderly conduct charges can also be stacked on top of each other (so that a defendant needs to serve each term consecutively) for each victim of the disorderly conduct. This is true even if the charges result from a single action, but it affects multiple victims (such as recklessly waiving a gun at multiple people). State v. Burdick, 211 Ariz. 583 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2006).
Defenses to Disorderly Conduct
- No “intent” or “knowledge”: In order to convict somebody of disorderly conduct against a particular person, the state must show that the defendant either 1) knowingly disturbed the victim’s peace, In re Julio L., 197 Ariz. 1 (2000); or 2) intended to do so Miranda, supra. If the crime is charged in this way where an individual person is named as a victim, it is a defense that the defendant lacks knowledge that the victim overheard his statements or didn’t intend to disturb the victim’s peace. If, however, the crime is charged as disturbing the peace of the neighborhood, then the defendant’s conduct has to be measured against objective standards. If the actions did not violate the usual standards of behavior under the circumstances, then no crime has occurred. These circumstances can often change depending on the circumstances–such as if the behavior occurred in the middle of the night in a quiet community or during a music festival.
- Conduct was not “reckless”: When disorderly conduct is charged is a felony, the state must prove that the defendant “recklessly” handled a weapon. Conduct is only reckless if it is “grossly” different from the standard of conduct a reasonable person would use in the situation. Brandishing a weapon, in and of itself, is not reckless if it is done is a responsible manner, such as one that adheres to the basics of gun safety. Therefore, the mere display of a weapon is not disorderly conduct, and the defendant cannot be convicted of the charge unless the prosecution shows that the defendant acted recklessly. If a defendant used proper care in the display of the weapon, evidence of this can be presented to fight the charges.
How Salwin Law Can Help You
If you’ve been charged with disorderly conduct, discuss your case with an experienced attorney. Salwin Law offers a free consultation on disorderly conduct charges and can discuss the best possible defenses and potential outcomes for your case.
Stewart Salwin is an experienced trial lawyer who has handled disorderly conduct cases as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. Call us and we can begin to prepare your defense immediately.