The criminal charge of “disorderly conduct” in Virginia is a broad charge that can be exploited and used against individuals who are engaged in lawful protest. Individuals generally have a right to freedom of speech to gather lawfully in protest.
Many people who are arrested for disorderly conduct have no prior criminal charges and are willing to plead guilty to avoid jail time or lesser penalties. However, before giving up your rights, talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer to understand your rights and defenses. Contact me today to discuss your charges.
Disorderly Conduct Statute in Virginia
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-415, disorderly conduct is the intentional causing of public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk, by:
- In any street, highway, public building, or while in or on a public conveyance, or public place engages in conduct having a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person or persons at whom, individually, such conduct is directed;
- Willfully or being intoxicated, whether willfully or not, and whether such intoxication results from self-administered alcohol or other drug of whatever nature, disrupts any funeral, memorial service, or meeting of the governing body of any political subdivision of this Commonwealth or a division or agency thereof, or of any school, literary society or place of religious worship, if the disruption (i) prevents or interferes with the orderly conduct of the funeral, memorial service, or meeting or (ii) has a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person or persons at whom, individually, the disruption is directed; or
- Willfully or while intoxicated, whether willfully or not, and whether such intoxication results from self-administered alcohol or other drug of whatever nature, disrupts the operation of any school or any activity conducted or sponsored by any school, if the disruption (i) prevents or interferes with the orderly conduct of the operation or activity or (ii) has a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person or persons at whom, individually, the disruption is directed.
Private Enforcement of Disorderly Conduct
The statute allows for individuals to remove people from buildings, meetings, or activities if the individual believes the person is involved in disorderly conduct. According to the statute, “the person in charge of any such building, place, conveyance, meeting, operation or activity may eject therefrom any person who violates any provision of this section, with the aid, if necessary, of any persons who may be called upon for such purpose.”
Penalties for Disorderly Conduct
Disorderly conduct is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The penalties for a conviction of a Class 1 misdemeanor include:
- Up to 12 months in jail, and
- A fine of up to $2,500.
Defenses to Disorderly Conduct Charges
Being “disorderly” is a vague term. Speaking loudly, holding up a sign, or even yelling does not automatically make someone disorderly. However, prosecutors and the police may make it sound like will be convicted just because someone does not like what you say or how you are saying it. Instead of pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, talk to your lawyer about ways to challenge the criminal charges. There are a number of defenses available to charges of disorderly conduct, which may include:
- The actions did not have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence,
- The actions were not directed at any person or persons,
- The actions were not intentional, or
- The actions were protected free speech.
Free speech is generally protected by the Constitution. However, there are limits on free speech, which can include things like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. So-called “fighting words,” may also be restricted speech. Fighting words are those that tend to incite violence. Talk to your criminal defense lawyer about your charges and whether your actions and words may be considered protected free speech under the First Amendment.
Charlottesville Disorderly Conduct Attorney
If you are exercising your free speech rights, the police should not be able to silence you by claiming you were disorderly. You do not have to plead guilty to a crime if you were not doing anything wrong. If you were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in Charlottesville, contact me today for a free consultation.