In criminal law, few are the situations that are clear-cut, and disorderly conduct is one of the most obscure and vague. According to Illinois statutes, this misdemeanor charge can be used to punish individuals who are simply not willing to cooperate with the police or display a disrespectful behavior towards law enforcement officers. Since state laws are worded specifically to grant the police authority and allow them to maintain order, it is often left to the judgment of police officers to decide what constitutes disorderly conduct.
Considered one of the most abused statutes in the United States, disorderly conduct is defined to include public intoxication, threatening, publicly fighting, engaging in violent behavior, loud displays of foul language, or physical altercations. According to a Time article, this charge was first implemented in the mid 19th century, when police officers had to often intervene and settle fights between immigrants and residents, mostly related to labor issues. At the moment,
“Disorderly conduct is a fluid concept,” says Tom Nolan, a criminal justice professor at Boston University who spent 27 years in uniform at the Boston Police Department. “Unlike a lot of other crimes, this really calls for the use of discretion in a way that armed robbery or more serious felony crime doesn’t. The less serious a crime, the more officer discretion you use,” he says, adding “discretion is judgment that we hope is based on wisdom, experience and training.”
Celebrities Charged with Disorderly Conduct
Because of their statute, power, and connections, a lot of celebrities ignore the line between freedom of speech and disorderly conduct. Here are a few stars who have been slapped with this charge:
- Reese Witherspoon was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in April, 2013, after she disobeyed the police officer pulling her and her husband over. She was instructed to remain in the car while her husband was being booked, but the actress exhibited violent and aggressive behavior, claiming she was a U.S. citizen and that she was permitted to "stand on American ground."
- "Jersey Shore" star Deena Cortese was arrested in 2012 for dancing while intoxicated and hitting cars as they passed on the street. The misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges were eventually dropped, and she was let go with only a fine for not using the sidewalk.
- Motley Crue vocalist Vince Neil was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly harassing his ex-girlfriend and the friends she was with after a show. He avoided charges of domestic violence by pleading guilty and paying a $1,000 fine. The case was later closed and Neil did not even have to appear in court.
- "Vampire Diaries" star Nina Dobrev was arrested, along with a few of her castmates, for hanging off a bridge and flashing motorists passing by. When two of them complained about the generous glimpses of flesh displayed by Dobrev and one of her friends, police arrived at the scene and discovered that the so-called commercial they were allegedly filming was in fact just some actresses having a good time. The fine was $4,000.
The biggest issue with disorderly conduct is where to draw the line between free speech and manifestation and violent or tumultuous behavior. To justify an arrest, a police officer must prove in the court of law that the suspect was either threatening him or getting too close to him, or had a violent behavior that attracted a crowd and prevented the officer from fulfilling his/her duties.
In the state of Illinois, you can get arrested and risk heavy fines, probation, and even jail time if something you do disturbs or alarms another person. Although it may appear as a minor charge, disorderly conduct is still a criminal offense and carries serious consequences. In case you have been arrested, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area to study your case thoroughly and aim to have the charges reduced or dropped completely.
Andrew Weisberg is a criminal defense attorney in Chicago, Illinois. A former prosecutor in Cook County, Mr. Weisberg is a member of the Capital Litigation Trial Bar, an elite group of criminal attorneys who are certified by the Illinois Supreme Court to try death penalty cases. He is also a member of the Federal Trial Bar. Mr. Weisberg is a solo practitioner at the Law Offices of Andrew M. Weisberg.