Breaching the peace is a crime in Florida, and police can arrest anyone who is drawing a crowd by behaving loudly, indecently, or belligerently. The exact crime is called "disorderly conduct," and the law is broad enough to criminalize various conduct. This is a favorite criminal charge that prosecutors slap on many people, including those trying to legitimately exercise their rights to protest.
If you or your child has been arrested for disorderly conduct, please contact The Watson Firm today. We are fully prepared to defend them in court and seek the best resolution possible. The worst mistake is to believe this isn't a serious crime. Below, we answer the most common questions that people have about these criminal charges.
How Does Florida Define Disorderly Conduct?
Florida law considers a wide range of conduct to be disorderly, such as any acts that:
- Corrupt public morals
- Outrage public decency
- Upset the peace and quiet of other people
Furthermore, getting into a fight in public will qualify as disorderly conduct under the law.
Is Disorderly Conduct A Serious Crime In Florida?
Yes. Disorderly conduct is a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida, which means you can face up to 60 days behind bars and a $500 fine if convicted.
That might not seem like much, but there are many repercussions. For one, you will now have a criminal record. Any future crime you commit could result in enhanced penalties because you have prior misdemeanor convictions.
Also, you will have to disclose a misdemeanor in many situations, such as when applying for a job. Many landlords also do a criminal history search before renting to an applicant. You could find it challenging to get a job or apartment in the future because of your criminal record. At a minimum, you must explain yourself and convince others that you have changed.
What Are Examples Of Disorderly Conduct?
The law is written vaguely, but disorderly conduct can be anything that has a negative effect on the public. A lot will depend on the subjective beliefs of the officer making an arrest. However, some examples include:
- Protesting without a permit when the police ask you to leave
- Loudly and aggressively interfering with a police officer's ability to investigate a crime
- Refusing to leave a business when asked but instead screaming and causing a scene
- Blocking the entrance to a store or public building and not moving when told to by the owner or police
- Starting a fight in public
- Arguing with your spouse in such a way that you draw a crowd
What Is Disorderly Conduct On The Premises Of An Establishment?
This is a separate Florida law that prohibits disorderly conduct at business. The law also gives the establishment the power to detain you using reasonable methods if you threaten other people's safety or lives. The business can then call the police, and an officer is empowered to arrest you without a warrant.
Disorderly conduct on premises can include:
- Stalking or shadowing people in a hotel or motel and refusing to leave
- Badgering patrons at a bar in an aggressive and threatening manner
- Loitering around the bathroom at a movie theater and scaring patrons
If the establishment detains you reasonably, you can't sue them for false imprisonment. You also probably can't get your charges dismissed for the lack of an arrest warrant.
Don't I Have A First Amendment Right To Engage In Offensive Speech?
Generally, yes. If your conduct is purely verbal, then Florida can't arrest you in most situations. There are some exceptions, such as yelling "Fire!" in a theater or using "fighting words" that could incite a fight. But most insulting and offensive speech is protected—even offensive speech hurled at police officers. For this reason, the police rarely arrest people for speech that "corrupts" public morals or decency.
There are some other limits the government can put on your First Amendment rights. For example, you have a right to protest peacefully. But the government can put reasonable limits on the time, place, and manner of that protest. Consequently, you might only be able to protest at a specific location or during certain hours.
The First Amendment is a powerful right to say what you think. Still, it isn't a complete shield. It also doesn't protect most conduct. You can say what you think, but you can't badger people, block public entrances, or disrupt orderly life.
Why Was I Arrested At A Protest?
The police will sometimes shut down a protest if it gets out of hand—that is, it gets violent or rowdy. For example, you might have joined a group to peacefully protest racist hiring policies at a company or store. As you stand on the sidewalk outside the store, some white nationalists show up and start punching people. Ideally, the police would arrest the troublemakers and allow you to continue with your protest. But that might not be possible. Instead, the police might tell everyone (including you) to disperse.
If you refuse to leave, you could get arrested for disorderly conduct. You should still consult an attorney because police sometimes go overboard and arrest people when they shouldn't.
What Other Defenses Do I Have To A Florida Disorderly Conduct Charge?
The best defense will depend on the facts of your arrest. For example, if you are arrested for fighting, you could claim self-defense. You can defend yourself so long as you didn't provoke the fight. So, if someone comes up and takes a swing at you for no reason, you can use force to defend yourself.
As with all crimes, we can also argue reasonable doubt. You might have been standing around someone who was breaching the peace, but you were not doing anything illegal. Standing beside someone shouting or causing a scene is not a crime.
We might also argue that you were trying to comply with instructions but were unable. For example, you might have been part of a group told to leave a bar. Although you try to get to the door, other people are blocking your way and refusing to move. You shouldn't face criminal charges if you were trying to comply.
What Is Disorderly Intoxication?
This is another crime in Florida. It covers creating a public disturbance by drinking in public or endangering someone's safety while drunk. It is likewise a second-degree misdemeanor charge. But there are additional penalties if you are a habitual offender: a judge can sentence you to treatment for at least 60 days.
Essentially, anyone breaching the peace or acting threateningly while drunk can face arrest. Something as simple as passing out drunk on someone's lawn or vomiting there could lead to getting handcuffed. College students often face disorderly intoxication charges when drinking, along with other crimes.
Reach Out To Our Florida Disorderly Conduct Attorney
No misdemeanor crime is too minor to overlook. Instead, you should have a vigorous defense. The prosecutor has no reason to take things easy on you, even if you are a first-time offender. At The Watson Firm, we can review all charges and analyze how to resolve your case favorably. To find out more, call us today at 850-607-2929 or contact us online.