Disorderly Conduct Attorney in Tampa, FL
Disorderly conduct is one of the most common crimes prosecuted in the Florida court system, along with other public-order misdemeanors such as disorderly intoxication and criminal mischief. Though it is a relatively minor offense, a conviction for disorderly conduct can have serious consequences, including probation, fines and even jail time.
If you or a loved one are facing disorderly conduct charges in the Tampa, FL, area, call Armando Edmiston, an experienced Tampa disorderly conduct criminal defense lawyer, today.
Disorderly Conduct Defined in Tampa, FL
Florida’s disorderly conduct statute is a kind of catch-all law for acts of public disorder. There are three ways to commit disorderly conduct. The first is by committing acts that corrupt the public morals, outrage the sense of public decency or affect the peace and quiet of bystanders. The second is to engage in brawling or fighting. The third is to engage in conduct that otherwise constitutes a breach of the peace. There are no set-in-stone definitions for any of these terms. Instead, they are broadly defined, which can sometimes lead to arrest for conduct as minor as a heated argument. Police often use disorderly conduct arrests as a way to maintain order, and they are not always aware of the legal distinction between disorderly conduct and protected free speech. Disorderly conduct is a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida, punishable by as many as 60 days in jail.
Disorderly Conduct: Related Crimes in Tampa, FL
There are several similar public-order crimes on the books in Florida. Disorderly intoxication is a crime that covers endangering the safety of other people or their property while intoxicated, as well as drinking or being intoxicated in public and causing a disturbance. This is also a second-degree misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 60 days. Loitering or prowling in a way that is unusual for law-abiding citizens and warrants justifiable alarm among people in the vicinity is also a second-degree misdemeanor with a 60-day maximum. Possession of alcohol by a person under the age of 21 is another public-order offense, a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by as many as 60 days. Charges for criminal mischief, also known as vandalism, can range from a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by at most 60 days, to a third-degree felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Disorderly Conduct: Defenses in Tampa, FL
Behavior that a police officer or prosecutor considers disorderly conduct is often protected as free expression by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. A disorderly conduct charge for mere speech will not stand unless the speech qualifies as “fighting words” or “enhanced speech.” Fighting words are words that by their very utterance cause injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. The classic example is the man who hurls profane insults at another in a manner likely to incite a fight. Enhanced speech includes words, known to be false, that report a physical hazard under circumstances where the report creates a clear and present danger to other people. The classic example of this is shouting “fire” in a crowded theater when you know there is no fire. Outside of these two kinds of non-protected speech, which are very narrowly defined by state and federal courts, speech in itself cannot qualify as disorderly conduct — even if police sometimes use the statute as a means to punish people who aren’t as compliant as they’d like.