Disorderly conduct: Texas Criminal Laws and Penalties
Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor offense in Texas that includes noise complaints and altercations in public places. As long as it is a first offense, the penalties are typically minor and include fines and maybe probation.
Unlike most misdemeanor offenses, a police officer can arrest you on a disorderly conduct charge, even if the officer didn’t see the incident, as long as you are found in a “suspicious place and under circumstances which reasonably show” that you committed the offense.
The disorderly conduct law in Texas covers a broad range of offenses, and the definitions are somewhat open to interpretation, so it is not unusual for police to use it as an all-purpose charge when they feel a person is being disruptive or disrespectful.
Texas Disorderly conduct Offenses
According to the Texas Penal Code, you can be charged with disorderly conduct if you do any of these in a public place:
1. Use “abusive, indecent, profane, or vulgar language,” of the kind likely to provoke a physical altercation. These are known legally as “fighting words.”
2. Make an obscene gesture that is likely to start a physical altercation.
3. Use chemicals to make a “noxious and unreasonable odor.”
4. Verbally abuse or threaten another person “in an obviously offensive manner.”
5. Make an “unreasonable noise” in a public place or near a private residence that’s not your own. The law defines “unreasonable” as making a sound that is more than 85 decibel levels after being warned once by a police officer. Remember, this a state law, separate from any local noise ordinances.
6. Get into a fight with another person.
7. Fire a gun, or display a gun with the intention to scare other people.
8. Expose your genitals or anus in a “reckless” manner that disregards anyone else who might see you and be offended.
9. Peek into someone else’s home or motel room, or into a private restroom, shower stall, or dressing room for “lewd or unlawful purposes.”
As you can see, the criminal charge of disorderly conduct can be applied to almost any situation in which you get into a disagreement with another person, and in many social settings. For example, if you get into a tussle with another guy at a bar, or have a loud party at your home, you could end up charged.
Punishments for disorderly conduct in Texas
Most disorderly conduct offenses are Class C misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $500, except for firing or displaying a gun in public. Those are Class B misdemeanors, with a sentence of up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000.
Typically, you will receive either a small fine, or in the gun cases, possibly probation for a disorderly conduct conviction.
However, there are several defenses to disorderly conduct, which we can present for you if you choose to fight the criminal charges. Depending on the circumstances of the incident, we may be able to argue either that you did not commit the act, or that:
l You did not use fighting words even if your language included profanity or vulgar terms.
l You had “significant provocation” for you to threaten or verbally abuse the other person, an affirmative defense specifically allowed for in the disorderly conduct statute.
l You had a reasonable fear for your own safety, or the safety of another person when you got into a fight, fired a gun, or displayed a gun.
l Or, that you did not act with lewd intent if charged with peeping, or were not aware people could see you, if charged with exposing yourself.
Whatever the case, there’s a good chance we can help protect you from a criminal charge of disorderly conduct in Texas.