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Disorderly conduct

From Academic Kids

In the criminal law of the United States of America, disorderly conduct is a name given to a rather ill defined crime. This offence is committed, in essence, whenever a person engages in activities that annoy police officers or similar officials, or come to their attention as a result of citizen complaints.

A typical statutory definition of disorderly conduct (Indiana's) defines the offence in this way:

A person who recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally:
(1) engages in fighting or in tumultuous conduct;
(2) makes unreasonable noise and continues to do so after being asked to stop; or
(3) disrupts a lawful assembly of persons;
commits disorderly conduct. . . [1] (http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/code/title35/AR45/CH1.html)

Indiana's definition of "disorderly conduct" is modelled after the Model Penal Code's definition, and is typical, but not identical, to similar laws on the statute books of other U.S. states. It is obvious that it covers a large variety of potential acts in its prohibition; "fighting" is perhaps the clearest act within the scope of its prohibition. What is "tumultuous conduct," what constitutes "unreasonable noise", or what "disrupts a lawful assembly" are matters that are far harder to decide, and as such disorderly conduct statutes give police officers and other authorities fairly broad discretion to arrest people whose activities they find undesirable for a broad variety of reasons.

The courts confronted with cases stemming from these arrests have from time to time had occasion to restrict the broad and vague definitions of the statute to make certain that freedom of speech and assembly and other forms of protected expression under the First Amendment were not affected. They also have had occasion to curb its scope to make certain that people were aware that their conduct was, in fact, within the prohibition of the statute, as required by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, no court has struck down a disorderly conduct statute as being per se unconstitutionally vague or overbroad.

See also: Queen's peace

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