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There are many varieties of disorderly conduct charges. Usually these types of charges involve conduct that annoys the public, like loudly yelling in a residential area while stumbling home drunk, fighting with hallucinations while in public, peeing on a public sidewalk, doing donuts in a parking lot, fighting actual people, continually punching the air while advising passerbyers to not walk into your punches, just being overly loud in public, playing music loud during the night, and nearly anything else that goes beyond just annoying or embarrassing.
For the most part, the specific elements of a disorderly conduct charge will vary from state to state, but will require a finding of criminal intent. Additionally, they can sometimes be interchangeable with charges like disturbing the peace, or be more specifically charged as public intoxication, indecent exposure, or public nuisance, depending on the jurisdiction and specific conduct. While often the evidence doesn't look good to the alleged victims and suspects of disorderly conduct, these charges are far from a slam dunk for prosecutors and can be defended.
Horseplay Is Not Disorderly Conduct
While it might be annoying to see a group of hooligans standing around on the sidewalk tussling with each other loudly, that doesn't automatically make their conduct disorderly and/or criminal. For a person to be convicted on a disorderly conduct charge, usually there must be an intent to cause harm, or at least a reckless disregard.
Particularly if the group has not been warned, or has no reason to know they are disturbing anyone, it can be difficult to show that there was an intent for the disorderly conduct to cause harm to the victim. If the tussling leads to property damage, or a bystander's injury, then there may be other criminal charges, as well as a civil claim.
Self Defense in Fighting Cases
Sometimes, when police arrive to break up a fight, if they cannot figure out who started the fight, all participants will be arrested and charged. In less serious cases, rather than charging the usual assault or battery charges for fighting, disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct charges will get filed. However, if a person can prove they were simply defending themselves, or someone else, it can be a valid defense to disorderly conduct charges stemming from fighting.
In essence, when defending a disorderly conduct charge, a defendant is either claiming self defense, or saying they didn't commit the crime (their conduct doesn't rise to the level of criminal conduct).