Disorderly Conduct: Law, Penalties, and Defenses

Disorderly Conduct Paperwork With a GavelBoth the Commonwealth of Virginia and Fairfax County have laws against disorderly conduct. If you’ve been accused of disorderly conduct, you can ensure that you are treated fairly by understanding the law, potential penalties, and possible defenses.

What Is Disorderly Conduct?

According to Virginia Code §18.2-415, disorderly conduct occurs when a person has the intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creates the risk of public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm in one of the following three ways:

  • The person engages in conduct having a direct tendency to cause violent acts by the person(s) at whom the conduct is directed in a street, highway, or public building, while in or on a public conveyance, or while in a public place.
     
  • The person acts willfully or while intoxicated (from alcohol or drugs) and disrupts a funeral, memorial service, meeting of a governing body, school, literary society, or place of religious worship. The disruption must prevent or interfere with the orderly conduct of the funeral, memorial service, or meeting or have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person(s) at whom the disruption is directed.
     
  • The person acts willfully or while intoxicated (from alcohol or drugs) and disrupts the operation of any school or any activity conducted or sponsored by the school if the disruption prevents or interferes with the orderly conduct of the school’s operation or activity or has a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person(s) at whom the disruption is directed.

Virginia Code §18.2-415(E) allows counties, cities, and towns to enact ordinances prohibiting disorderly conduct. Fairfax County has created such an ordinance. Fairfax County Ordinance §5-1-4 prohibits disorderly conduct and is similar to Virginia Code §18.2-415. In Fairfax County, disorderly conduct occurs if a person intentionally causes public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm or recklessly creates a risk of:

  • Public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm in any street, highway, public building, or while in or on a public conveyance or public space and the conduct has a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by person(s) at whom the conduct is directed. However, the conduct doesn’t include the utterance or display of any words.
     
  • Public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm willfully or while being intoxicated and disrupts a government meeting, a school, literary society, or place of religious worship. The disruption must prevent or interfere with the orderly conduct of the meeting or have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person(s) at whom the disruption was directed. However, the conduct shall not include the utterance or display of any words.

A violation of Virginia Code §18.2-415 or Fairfax County Ordinance §5-1-4 is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Disorderly Conduct Penalties

The potential sentence for a Class 1 misdemeanor includes:

  • A jail term of up to 12 months
     
  • A fine of up to $2,500
     
  • Both jail time and a fine

Additionally, you will have a criminal conviction on your permanent record, and that conviction could impact your future:

  • Employment
     
  • Ability to get a loan
     
  • Housing options
     
  • Immigration status
     
  • Security clearance
     
  • Custody of your children

Therefore, now is the time to protect your rights by understanding the charges against you, raising any applicable disorderly conduct defenses, and talking to a Fairfax disorderly conduct defense lawyer.

Defenses to Disorderly Conduct Charges

A disorderly conduct arrest does not mean you will be convicted of the crime. You may defend yourself by raising a reasonable doubt that you committed a crime. For example, you may establish that:

  • The Commonwealth cannot prove its case against you
     
  • You were exercising your right to free speech
     
  • Your actions were not directed at any specific person or people
     
  • You lacked the intent to commit the crime and you were sober

You may be tempted to pay the fine and even serve a few months in jail to put this matter behind you. However, the consequences of a disorderly conduct conviction may continue to impact your life for a long time. Accordingly, we encourage you to contact our experienced Northern Virginia criminal defense attorneys today to discuss your defense and how we may help you protect your rights and future.