Virginia criminal code 18.2-415 of 2018 is used to cover the crime of disorderly conduct in Virginia. This section prohibits people from being a nuisance to both themselves and the public. You are proven guilty of disorderly conduct if you intend to inconvenience the public, disturb the peace, or recklessly create a risk. This offense attracts severe consequences, and most people do not easily understand the elements that make up the charge. Hence, people get convicted without understanding the alleged facts. This is why you will need a top-notch criminal defense lawyer to help you if you face disorderly conduct charges. If you are in Fairfax or Northern Virginia, we invite you to get in touch with us at Virginia Criminal Attorney for a free evaluation of your case.
Disorderly Conduct, Section 18.2-415
Disorderly conduct under the Virginia law is a criminal act and is punished as a misdemeanor. The accused faces a one-year jail term and a $2,500 fine. This crime applies to several actions, behaviors, and types of public locations:
1. 18.2-415 A - An act is done in public of any street, highway, or building, directly causing violence by the person to whom the suspect directs his/her aggression. In short, picking a fight with another person anywhere in public is referred to as disorderly conduct.
2. 18.2-415 B - Willfully or not intoxicated from either alcohol or drugs, disrupts a memorial, funeral, government meeting or public gathering if the disruption:
- Interferes with the orderly conduct of the peaceful meeting
- Directly causes violence or division
3. 18.2-415 C - While intoxicated from alcohol or drugs willingly or not, disrupts a school operation or activity if the disruption:
- Interferes with the orderly conduct of the lawful school
- Directly causes violence to disrupt the social amusement
Public confrontational utterances and display of any words may not get charged under sections A, B or C. However, the person in charge of such a building, meeting, or operation can eject any violator of this section with the help of others. The defendant of this law is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Disorderly conduct can be viewed as a "catch-all" crime. Situations where someone is causing notable nuisance but is not technically violating. Here are other examples related to the offense:
- Use of vulgar language in public
- Displaying an offensive gesture that could lead to unruly behavior
- Emitting a dangerous chemical odor in public
- Threatening another person in public
- Resisting arrest
- Misbehavior that results in shutting down a pathway
- Shouting causing nuisance near a private residence
- Discharging a firearm in public
- Peeping in private areas such as hotel rooms and restrooms
It is important to note that a public place can also include private property, areas that are self-owned, but are still open to the public.
Disorderly Conduct Arrest Process
There are two ways in which people get arrested over disorderly conduct:
1. Arrested On The Scene
This is when the police show up in the place the incident is happening. They speak to witnesses, investigate the cause of action, and then find a probable reason for an arrest.
2. Arrest Warrant Process
In this process, the police investigate and state down their evidence and findings in the form of an arrest warrant application. They then submit to the Virginia prosecutor, who, in turn, reviews, signs, and sends to the judge for approval.
However, there are other situations where the arrest is not investigated. Cases of disorderly conduct where nightlife is involved, the police make little or no effort to investigate the matter. They arrest the parties involved and let the court do the rest. Unfortunately, this approach causes the defendants' hardships as a defendant might be held guilty and have to pay or the crime that they may not have committed.
Criminal Court Process for Disorderly Conduct
After your arrest, you get a court date, called court arraignment. It is also known as advisement. On this date, which is typically documented on paper, the judge will inform you:
- Your crime and charges involved.
- The maximum penalties. You are either allowed to plead guilty or not guilty.
- Request if you have any plans of hiring a lawyer, self-representation or check out the qualification of a public offender
- When you should come back in court
In most cases, defendants plead “not guilty,” paving the way for court proceedings to the next level. However, if the accused plead guilty, the case is closed, and possible penalties are given as earlier described by the judge. At this juncture, you end up having a criminal lawyer for your defense.
Sometimes, the arraignment closes while the accused is still in custody. The following date you come to court becomes a Pretrial Conference. The prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney will be in attendance in the pretrial. The defense can either be the defendant or the defendant's criminal lawyer. They mainly discuss the upcoming issues in the case.
If you hire one of our Virginia Criminal Lawyers, the court sets a date for your attorney to review your case type. Ensure that by this date, you ought to have found a lawyer. The lawyer should file documents and inform the judge that they are going to be your representative. You do not have to appear in court when your attorney is going to analyze your case. Though you have to confirm with our hired lawyer, or else you risk a contempt charge for failing to appear in court.
An attorney will request the prosecutor to provide everything they have in the file related to the client's charges. The information is called discovery. The defense lawyer has a right to access the material used in the defendant’s case. It should be obtained before the pretrial stage and given at the first setting. The discovery file contains:
- Notes and reports from the police
- Statements from witnesses
- Footage from CCTV cameras or Dashcam
- 911 call recordings
- Jail video recordings
The discovery may not be available in some instances, but it trickles in as the case goes on. Hence, several pretrials happen to resolve issues. Mostly, the prosecution will offer a plea agreement if the plea provides a substantial benefit.
A Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) is granted to the defendant in a mutual understanding. It is generally defined as a general continuance. It applies to a situation where the prosecutor has agreed to defer a trial on a charge for a period of 6 months to one year. During this time, the accused person is given time just like in probation to either complete community service or take a class. The accused becomes lucky if he/she finishes the conditions delivered on time. The prosecution might drop the charges.
There's another arrangement called deferred adjudication. It follows the same procedures as DPA, though, on this, the agreement is between the judge and the defense. A well-versed attorney in Virginia will be able to assist the defendant in attaining one of these alternative sentencing options depending on the case concerning disorderly conduct.
Common Defenses to Disorderly Conduct Charges
The term "disorderly" is unclear and can be misinterpreted depending on circumstances. Actions, like yelling, shouting, or holding up signs, are not convincing enough to be referred to as elements of disorderly conduct according to law. However, law-keepers and prosecutors would use such evidence to convict you and term it as acting contrary to other people's feelings. Do not plead guilty if you are faced with such charges. Talk to our team first so that we can find ways to justify your actions. Here are common defenses of disorderly conduct we use to challenge your criminal charges. They include:
- Non-medical - The mental state is one of the best defenses for a disorderly conduct charge to show that the defendant did not know their actions would cause a disturbance. For instance, you could be hosting a house birthday party for your little one, and a neighbor, three houses away, complains of the noise. You can plead you did not know that the neighbor could hear the sound.
- Medical issue - A person charged for yelling and being disruptive and is under medication for mental illness, can use this medical condition as a defense. For instance, a person suffering from depression and displays the signs of their condition can blame the mental state for the action.
- Affirmative defense - There are some parts of the case that prevent the prosecution from moving forward. These parts include an elapsed time limit or charges pursued in the wrong jurisdiction. The Jury may end up dismissing the case.
- Contradicting testimonies - One may be convicted for disruptive behavior as per a witness. However, when other witnesses get interviewed, they give contradictory statements that either way shows the action was not disruptive to others. In this case, the accused charge may be dismissed.
- Intoxication - When the defendant violates the law under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, the criminal lawyer can defend the accused of not being directly responsible for the action due to substance abuse. An intoxicated person can be involved in involuntary actions due to a distorted state of mind. Thus, the accused will enter into a rehabilitation center, and the jail term and fines get waived.
- Justification - You may have acted disorderly due to self-defense. At times, one can get provoked and yell at the other person with demeaning utterances. This is justifiable as it shows you were defending yourself when you felt threatened.
- Unlawful police work - Sometimes, criminal lawyers take advantage of shoddy work done by the police force. Especially if the police violated the rights of the accused, these rights may include, right to privacy, freedom of speech, Miranda rights (right to remain silent and right to speak to an attorney), or seizure law concerning evidence. Our Virginia Criminal Lawyer will use this evidence against the police to have the case dismissed.
- Action occurrence - An essential aspect of disorderly conduct is location, where the manner took place. If the action did not happen in a public place, the defense lawyer might argue for your charges to be dropped.
- Egregious insufficient - It is impossible for one to know the level of disruption. The prosecutor has to prove the level of conduct was sufficient enough to cause inconvenience and annoyance in public — failure to prove that the accused is proved innocent.
The constitution generally protects free speech. However, free speech has limits. Remarks such as shouting "fire" (false alarm) in a gathering causing a commotion, also some "fighting words" (words that intend to incite)are restricted.
Each case is different, and the accused main goal is to have charges dropped. While this is possible, it is a delicate maneuver between your defense and the prosecutor; hence, we encourage you to speak with one of our Virginia Criminal Lawyers and get the best protection for your disorderly conduct charge.
Penalties for Disorderly Conduct
Disorderly conduct is a class 1 misdemeanor or an infraction. If the action presented a severe risk to the public, it might be charged as a felony. Assuming you are charged under a misdemeanor, the usual penalty is a maximum of one year jail time or a $ 2,500 fine. Many disorderly conduct convictions have no jail time, especially for first-time offenders.
By any chance, if alcohol or drugs was involved, the accused is forced to attend an alcohol education center or a drug and substance abuse course. The accused may also be given an option of community service.
Sometimes the defendant may get probation, which means the defendant will have a designated officer to keep track of their behavior and ensure no further similar disruptions happen. If the accused happens to commit another disorder, the court may impose a more harsh penalty, such as lengthy jail term or huge fines.
Disturbing peace may also result in the accused being banned from going to a particular place for some years after a case is over.
What the Prosecution Must Prove to Establish a Disorderly Conduct
The police officers use code 18.2-415 to arrest those who seem to be disruptive, intoxicated, violent, or dangerous to the public. However, the police do not determine the terms of conviction. But they ensure that the elements necessary in a criminal offense under this section is established. The role of proving the charges is left to the prosecutor, who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt; the defendant is guilty.
The prosecutor must prove that the incident indeed happened in a public place. It may seem obvious, but a public place is not just a place with a crowd. It should be open such as the highway, street, or sidewalk. It can also mean a place where groups of people can access like an apartment or a park.
The prosecutor must bring forth statements from witnesses who were at the scene during the incident. This is termed as physical evidence. It can also be in the form of videotape surveillance or audio recordings.
The prosecutor must prove that you, indeed, purposely caused public violence. You cannot be convicted for just improper behavior, which was not intended to create an alarm in public. The defendant must possess the intention specified in the statute.
In terms of offensive language, the prosecutor must prove your motive was to offend someone. The defendant must have acted recklessly in terms of causing prohibited results. This involves engaging in an unjust manner that annoys others.
Disorderly Conduct Related Statutes
Section 18.2-404: (Riot and Unlawful Assembly) this law describes obstructing free passage for others. Some people might be in a public or private place unreasonably blocking others from passing. If such people are not authorized by the owner, lessee, or by law, then they are guilty of Class 1 misdemeanors. The charges might elevate to a Class 6 felony if, due to unlawful assembly, there is property destruction or other people got injured.
Section 18.2-416: ( Abusive and insulting Language) this law falls under punishment for using abusive language to another person. If any person hears or witnessed another person abuse others under any circumstances aimed to provoke anger, the accused is guilty of a Class 3 Misdemeanor. Moreover, a potential fine of $ 500 is added.
Section 18.2-418: (Picketing and Dwelling places) this is a declaration of policy. The government is mandated to protect and preserve homes in Virginia. The homeowners need to have peace and tranquility while at home. While away, they should have a sense of security from government assurance. The thought of picketing in dwelling places can send a cold shiver to the occupants. Necessary provisions are enacted in the interest of the public.
Section 18.2-420: (Activities Tending to Cause Violence) this is defined as a clandestine organization, which means an organization that conceals its name and activities and uses cover names or codes. It can also refer to a group of people whose members hide their membership and that of others. Their purpose is to use violence or intimidation to accomplish its objectives.
Frequently Asked Questions on Disorderly Conduct
Being arrested and charged with the crime of disorderly conduct can be very disturbing, specifically for the first-timers. All criminal charges should be taken seriously, no matter the penalties. Unfortunately, most of the accused of this crime may not have encountered the law before and never intended to commit the crime. Defendants of this crime happen to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Hence, they might not be thinking critically when the incident occurred. This makes the matter worse. Here are frequently asked questions by the defendants:
I was charged with" disorderly conduct," and I was told the charges would be for disturbing the peace. What does that mean?
Answer: disorderly conduct as defined by Virginia law statute 18.2-415, is behavior done in public with knowledge to anger, disturb, or annoy other people. Examples of such conduct are participating in a fight, disrupting a meeting, and the use of offensive language to arouse anger. All these actions disturb the peace.
I was not intoxicated, why was I charged with disorderly conduct?
Answer: most people charged under this crime are assumed to be under the influence of either alcohol or drugs. That does not mean that you have to be intoxicated to commit the crime of disorderly conduct. You might get provoked and reiterate in a disruptive manner.
What charges should I face after being convicted of disorderly conduct?
Answer: disorderly conduct is a Class 1 misdemeanor under the Virginia law. This is the most serious of all the misdemeanors. You get penalties of either a maximum of a one-year jail term or a $2,500 fine. The charges might be harsher if it is not your first time, or the conduct caused more harm like the destruction of property.
Can I contact a criminal lawyer?
Answer: the simple answer to this question is yes. The moment you get arrested by the police, the wise thing to do is to take advantage of the Marini rights. The right to speak to a Lawyer. Contact our knowledgeable Virginia Criminal Lawyer. We will help you by getting your charges dropped.
This is not a serious crime. Why do I need a lawyer?
Answer: regardless of the seriousness of a crime, anytime you are faced with a criminal charge, an attorney should represent you. Remember, a criminal charge of any degree is recorded on a criminal record. You would not wish to have problems in the future in terms of employment, sports opportunities, and financial aid. You not only need a lawyer but an experienced criminal lawyer who can explain the charges against you, advise on your rights, help in the evaluation of your legal rights, represent you in and out of the courtroom, and eventually have your charges dropped.
Are you facing charges of disorderly conduct in Fairfax or Northern Virginia? We at Virginia Criminal Attorney understand that you might be worried and don’t know what to do. That is why we are here to offer you the best possible criminal defense services that might help your case be dropped or charges reduced. Do not hesitate to contact us at 703-718-5533 if you have any questions regarding your case.