Disorderly Conduct, Disturbing the Peace (272/53)

Definition of Disorderly Conduct

These laws regarding disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace are old, ambiguous, and poorly defined.  In general, a person can be charged with disorderly conduct for

Engaging in fighting, threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior, or behavior which creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the defenant's, and which was undertaken with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creates a risk thereof. 

Limits on the Charge

What's more, there are limitations on when the law can be used that are not written into the statute, such as the requirement that the activity take place in public.  And, of course, you cannot be punished for simply exercising your first amendment rights to speak your mind (even if what you say is offensive to the police or people around you).

If you feel like you are being charged with a criminal offense for activity that you have a constitutional right to undertake, call me for a free and private consultation.

Practical Considerations

Still, because of the ambiguity in the above definition, these are charges that the police use when they don't have anything else but want to make an arrest, or when the police are just looking to pile on the charges.  Often-times the police or the Commonwealth are willing to drop the charges later, after the reason the police wanted to make the arrest have past.

If, during or before or during the arrest, the police perceive some kind of disrespect, you may also be charged with the much more serious offense of resisting arrest.

Recently, the statute has been changed to provide that the maximum penalty for a first offense shall be a fine only.  However, a second offense carries a penalty of six months in the house of correction.


See: G.L. c. 272 s. 53, Resisting Arrest.