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Disorderly conduct: When your public actions become a crime

Most people are on their best behavior when out in public. However, sometimes, circumstances get out of hand, and someone complains about your behavior. In some instances, the police show up to reprimand you for your behavior. If things don't go well, you could end up with a citation for disorderly conduct, or worse, you could end up in jail.

Here in Florida, certain actions in public fall under what the law refers to as a "breach of the peace" -- disorderly conduct. You may not believe that your actions rose to the level of being a second-degree misdemeanor crime or that you breached anyone's peace, but the law might see it differently.

Acts that could constitute disorderly conduct

According to Florida law, you may have violated the law against disorderly conduct if your behavior caused the following:

  • A corruption of public morals
  • A disruption of someone else's peace and quiet
  • A violation of public decency standards

With such a broad definition, a broad range of behaviors could fall under this statute.

So what kinds of behaviors does the law consider a breach of the peace?

To give you an idea of the types of actions that often lead to a charge of disorderly conduct, consider the following:

  • Public intoxication
  • Loitering
  • Non-violent altercations with police
  • Arguing in public
  • Inciting a riot
  • Obstructing traffic
  • Being unreasonably loud
  • Using abusive or offensive language
  • Fighting in public
  • Disturbing the peace

Fighting in public can be elevated to a first-degree misdemeanor. If you take part in a riot, you could face a third-degree felony.

Defenses to disorderly conduct charges

When a breach of the peace occurs in public, police often arrest first and ask questions later in order to deescalate the situation and protect lives and property. For this reason, some of the common defenses to a disorderly conduct charge include the following:

  • Not actually in a public place
  • Were defending yourself
  • Actions were protected by freedom of speech

Whether you crossed the often blurry line between legal and illegal conduct is often subjective. Successfully using one of these defenses to a disorderly conduct charge requires you to present the appropriate evidence to the court.

You may feel tempted to simply plead your case in court thinking that this charge will not greatly affect your life. However, any criminal charge on your record could have unintended consequences for you in the future. Therefore, you would probably benefit from seeking the advice and assistance of a Florida attorney who can lay out your legal options and advocate on your behalf with prosecutors and the courts.

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