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Disorderly Conduct

Under Washington law, Disorderly Conduct is a misdemeanor, meaning it carries a possible penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. The offense can be committed in four ways:

1) Intentionally provoking a fight by using abusive language toward another person,

2) Intentionally disrupting any lawful assembly or meeting without lawful authority,

3) Intentionally disrupting vehicle or pedestrian traffic without lawful authority, or

4) Intentionally engaging in fighting or tumultuous conduct or making unreasonable noise within 500 feet of a funeral.

You will note that the law requires a prosecutor to prove more than that a person simply engaged in conduct that was "disorderly" in a general sense. Let's take a look at each type of disorderly conduct in turn.

The most common type of disorderly conduct is using abusive language to intentionally provoke another person to commit an assault. Although the first amendment protects freedom of speech, it does not protect "fighting words." Fighting words are words used to intentionally provoke a fight. Insulting another person's race, ethnicity or family members is a common way that a fight is provoked. It is important to note that the prosecuting attorney must prove that it was the defendant's intent to provoke a fight. This can be difficult for a prosecutor to do. Such an effort often relies on circumstantial evidence. Our courts have held that a charge cannot be based on insults to a law enforcement officer while the officer is on duty. The courts consider them to be above provocation. An example of a strong case against an individual would be verbally abusive language coupled with statements such as "hit me" or "let's go" or things along those lines.

Let's next look at the second way that disorderly conduct can be proven under the law, i.e. that a person intentionally disrupts a meeting or lawful assembly. In our experience this allegation arises a lot in the context of a public hearing such as one at city hall. Keep in mind that it is lawful to make statements at a public hearing that are merely insulting or rude or inflammatory. This is protected by the first amendment. However, such statements must be made during the time that an individual is allotted during a public comment period. Persisting on speaking out of turn and refusing to desist would likely substantiate a disorderly conduct charge.
disorderly conduct in WA

The third way that someone can commit disorderly conduct is when he or she intentionally disrupts vehicle or pedestrian traffic without lawful authority. This most commonly takes place within the context of a political protest or a march or rally. The phrase "without lawful authority" refers to the fact that the protest was not done with a permit that would allow the road to be closed. As one can tell from watching the TV news, this form of "disorderly conduct" can be quite common. The police will often make an arrest of several demonstrators and charges may or may not be filed at a later date.

Lastly, a person can commit disorderly conduct by disrupting a funeral service. The law prohibiting this sort of activity was enacted by the legislature in response protests done by the Westboro Baptist Church at military funerals. This maybe something that you have read about in the news.

If you are charged with disorderly conduct and wish to speak with a criminal defense lawyer, please feel free to call our office for a free consultation. We can usually be reached in about an hour. We have experience in dealing with such charges in a variety of different contexts. Sometimes disorderly conduct is charged when a person is out in public and they are drunk and being unruly. Sometimes it is charged when a person is making a conscious decision to participate in a political protest. Either way our firm can assist you and help you through the process.