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The Disorderly Conduct Charge in Minnesota: What is It, How Serious, and What can You Do about It?

People who act out in public in a particularly disruptive way may be taken off the street and charged with disorderly conduct. Disorderly conduct and breaching the peace are public safety crimes in Minnesota. Minnesota does not put public intoxication, as such, in the same category (although many states do). In Minnesota, public intoxication is viewed as a social or health-related issue, not a crime. Someone who damages property or commits crimes while intoxicated can, in fact, receive punishment for those crimes.

Related Crimes.

Minnesota law prohibits the following kinds of behavior:

  • Disorderly conduct–fighting, disturbing a lawful assembly or meeting, just being offensive, noisy and abusive or using offensive or obscene language that arouses anger or alarm in public.
  • Public nuisance–intentionally and unreasonably annoying, injuring, or endangering others. Endangering the health, safety, or morals of others. Interfering with or obstructing public highways or waters. Disobeying local ordinances that define “nuisance.”
  • Permitting others to maintain disorderly conduct or public nuisance on property you own or control.
  • Being a caregiver who engages in offensive or disorderly conduct toward a vulnerable adult. This offense may be regarded as more serious. Under Minnesota law, a caregiver who violates disorderly conduct laws toward a vulnerable adult is subject to a significantly steeper penalty.

Exception.

Minnesota law especially recognizes that disturbing or disorderly behavior can be caused by epilepsy or related neurological conditions. These incidents are specifically excluded.  Moreover, often there is a First Amendment defense, as well as “self defense” argument that can be made.

Setting of the Crimes.

These disturbances constitute a crime in any public or private place including a school bus if the offender knew or had reason to know that the behavior would alarm, anger, or disturb others, or might evoke an assault or breach the peace. Public brawling, disturbing a lawful meeting.

Penalties.

The penalties are actually flexible to some degree, depending on the action itself and the persons disturbed by the behavior. Disorderly conduct and public nuisance crimes are generally misdemeanors usually subject to sentences of up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. A caregiver who engages in disorderly conduct toward a vulnerable person can be imprisoned up to one year and subject to fines up to $3,000.

When a person is convicted of a misdemeanor, the real impact of the crime may be its effect on career and reputation. Students will probably lose any scholarships they have. The conviction can impact jobs and even affect credit status. Convictions for even minor misdemeanor crimes are recorded in the courts and can affect the outcomes of any future legal processes. There are also many instances of major incidents arising out the interaction with the police during arrests for minor offenses.

Defenses.

Anyone accused of disorderly conduct or public nuisance crimes would be strongly advised to obtain legal counsel promptly. There are several possible defenses a skilled attorney can use.

  • The exercise of free speech: The definition of “offensive” can be subject to interpretation in some cases. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech. This means that even though some words may cause disturbance, the speaker can’t be punished criminally for using them unless they are found to be “fighting words.” In one case, a defendant was charged with disorderly conduct because he used a vulgar name in addressing his neighbor. The court found that the neighbor was not actually fearful but was egging the defendant on. The disorderly conduct conviction was overturned.
  • Provoked by law enforcement: Arguing with a police officer cannot be interpreted as disorderly conduct if the accused does not engage in physical contact. Refusing to comply with a police order to move from a public area does not constitute disorderly conduct unless crowd control was an issue.
  • Medical defenses: Episodes caused by epilepsy, neurological or profound psychological disturbance may not be punishable under the disorderly conduct law.
  • Self Defense

Carson J. Heefner, has over 20 years experience defending people against various charges in both State and Federal courts. He has defended people charged with a wide variety of offenses, from speeding tickets to murder. Please contact us to learn more.