Most people have a general understanding of what constitutes disorderly conduct. Bar fights, public rioting, or an unruly fan running onto the field of play during the action are probably of few examples that come to mind.
To be specific, Minn. Stat. § 609.72 defines Disorderly Conduct as anyone that engages in behavior in a public or private place, who knowing, or having reasonable grounds to know that it will alarm, anger or disturb others or provoke an assault or breach of the peace. This generally includes three types of behavior:
(1) Engaging in brawling or fighting
(2) Disturbing an assembly or meeting
(3) Engaging in offensive, obscene, abusive, boisterous, or noisy conduct or in offensive, obscene, or abusive language tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others.
Anyone who engages in brawling or fighting may be facing a Disorderly Conduct charge, or a more serious assault charge. Whether you’re charged with Disorderly Conduct or assault based on a physical altercation, Minnesota courts recognize certain defenses including the use of reasonable force and self-defense.
However, you DO NOT need to engage in a physical altercation or public disruption in order to be charged with Disorderly Conduct. In order to be found guilty of Disorderly Conduct, the prosecutor must only prove that you knew or should have known that your conduct (speech content and/or manner, tone and delivery) would alarm, anger or disturb others or would provoke an assault or breach of the peace.
Of course, criminalizing the content of your words may implicate your First Amendment Right to Free Speech. While perhaps uncivilized, in some circumstances the content of obscene or crude public speech is protected under the Constitution. Further, Minnesota’s Disorderly Conduct statute only criminalizes speech content that rises to the level of “fighting words,” that is, language that is particularly vulgar and more likely to incite violence.
Keep in mind, the First Amendment generally protects the content of your speech, not necessarily the manner or delivery of speech. For example, an extremely loud argument at the bar or restaurant about, for example, which baseball team has a better pitcher, could be boisterous and noisy conduct that triggers a criminal charge if others around you are reasonably alarmed or angered. In that circumstance, it is not necessarily the speech itself that triggers punishment, but the tone, manner and delivery of the speech.
If you find yourself in the middle of an altercation in a bar or restaurant, or other public or private event, try your best to de-escalate the confrontation and/or remove yourself from the situation, if possible. If you need a lawyer to represent you in a criminal case involving a Disorderly Conduct charge, contact Neuville Law Office.