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Disorderly Conduct in Texas: What It Means

Disorderly conduct is an offense in Texas that refers to a crime committed against public order and decency. Some people believe a disorderly conduct charge is meaningless, maybe even a little silly, but you should know it is not: a conviction can lead to a criminal record that can impact your future. This is particularly important for youth who think they can do something obscene or use abusive language in public and not worry about the consequences.

But a charge of disorderly conduct does not have to end with a conviction. The prosecutor must prove that you committed each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. This burden can be difficult to meet, especially when faced with an aggressive, strategic criminal defense lawyer. Doug Murphy, a veteran criminal trial lawyer, is Board Certified in criminal law, and he is committed to your defense. He does not compromise your future, your freedom, or your rights. He will not settle with the State for a plea deal unless it is your only option, your best option. He anticipates trial and prepares accordingly. Even for a crime like disorderly conduct that some people think they can laugh off, he takes it seriously—because it is serious.

Doug Murphy is based in Houston, Texas, but represents clients in the following counties:

What Are Examples of Disorderly Conduct as Defined by Texas Statute?

Disorderly conduct includes a lot of different activities if conducted in public. If you scream racial slurs at the corner of Main and Congress, you could be slapped with disorderly conduct if an officer is on-site and decides to do so. If you attend a Houston Astros game and start a fight with another spectator, you could be slapped with disorderly conduct. If you walk by a hotel room and peep through the window, you could be charged with disorderly conduct.

Keep in mind, too, if you are in high school, you are not too young to be charged with disorderly conduct if you get into a fight, use offensive language, make threats, or any other act that constitutes disorderly conduct.

There are a number of ways you can be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. According to Tex. Penal Code § 42.01, there are specific descriptions of what constitutes disorderly conduct in the State of Texas. Disorderly conduct occurs when a person:

(1) uses abusive, indecent, profane, or vulgar language in a public place, and the language by its very utterance tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace;
(2) makes an offensive gesture or display in a public place, and the gesture or display tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace;
(3) creates, by chemical means, a noxious and unreasonable odor in a public place;
(4) abuses or threatens a person in a public place in an obviously offensive manner;
(5) makes unreasonable noise in a public place other than a sport shooting range, as defined by Section 250.001, Local Government Code, or in or near a private residence that he has no right to occupy;
(6) fights with another in a public place;
(7) discharges a firearm in a public place other than a public road or a sport shooting range, as defined by Section 250.001, Local Government Code;
(8) displays a firearm or other deadly weapon in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm;
(9) discharges a firearm on or across a public road;
(10) exposes his anus or genitals in a public place and is reckless about whether another may be present who will be offended or alarmed by his act; or
(11) for a lewd or unlawful purpose: (A) enters on the property of another and looks into a dwelling on the property through any window or other opening in the dwelling; (B) while on the premises of a hotel or comparable establishment, looks into a guest room not the person's own through a window or other opening in the room; or (C) while on the premises of a public place, looks into an area such as a restroom or shower stall or changing or dressing room that is designed to provide privacy to a person using the area.

As you can see, there are a lot of obnoxious behaviors or conduct that could constitute a violation of the Disorderly Conduct statute in Texas. The charge acts as a "catch-all" crime and is often used when a person is disturbing the peace or otherwise behaving in a disruptive manner but not posing any significant threat to the public overall. In fact, disorderly conduct is often used as a "catch-all" crime so the police can take you in.

When you are in a public place, always be mindful of how you speak, what you say, how you behave, and when to display a firearm, among other acts and conduct. You never know when a police officer is observing and may decide to charge you with disorderly conduct.

How Does the State of Texas Prosecute Disorderly Conduct?

If you have been charged with disorderly conduct, don't panic, but don't take it lightly either. The State must prove the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, and an experienced criminal defense lawyer will challenge the State's arguments. If you retained an experienced criminal defense trial attorney who puts forth solid, well-thought-out arguments to weaken the State's case against you, then the charges could be dropped, or you could be acquitted at trial. Here's what the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a judge or jury of your peers:

The State must prove mental culpability. You must have intentionally or knowingly committed the disorderly conduct, as identified in the above eleven descriptions. Texas Penal Code Ann. § 6.03 outlines the definitions of these mental states.

(a) A person acts intentionally, or with intent, with respect to the nature of his conduct or to a result of his conduct when it is his conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result.
(b) A person acts knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to the nature of his conduct or to circumstances surrounding his conduct when he is aware of the nature of his conduct or that the circumstances exist. A person acts knowingly, or with knowledge, with respect to a result of his conduct when he is aware that his conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result.

If you did not have the requisite mental state when you performed whatever conduct it was that got you charged with disorderly conduct, then this element cannot be satisfied. For instance, if you are staying at a hotel and are waiting on a kid or spouse and look into another room through the window, mistaking it as your room, then you did not intentionally or knowingly peep into someone else's room—you mistakenly looked into another room.

The State must prove you in fact committed the disorderly conduct. There must be some kind of evidence, whether by video, witness testimony, or other form of evidence that indicates you are the perpetrator. Maybe someone threw a stink bomb into a crowd, and you were nearby and accused of it. There must be some evidence to put you with the stink bomb. Maybe there's a receipt for supply purchases, or maybe there's an eyewitness who saw you throw it. Absent any kind of proof, your attorney will challenge the State and move the court to dismiss the case.

What Are the Penalties and Consequences if Convicted of Disorderly Conduct in Texas?

If you are convicted of disorderly conduct in Texas, the punishment depends on the classification of the crime. In most cases, disorderly conduct is charged as a Class C misdemeanor, which carries with it a fine not to exceed $500. In some cases, like displaying a firearm in a public place with the intention of inciting fear in others, you could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor. A Class B misdemeanor carries with it possible imprisonment of up to 180 days and/or a fine not to exceed $2,000.

Keep in mind, however, that Texas has broad sentencing guidelines. The penalty you receive is most usually up to the discretion of the judge but is often guided by the recommendation of the prosecutor.

Also, keep in mind that a conviction leads to collateral consequences. A conviction means you now have a criminal record. A criminal record means difficulty acquiring good jobs, maintaining a good job, obtaining student loans, and obtaining student housing, among other problems that could affect the quality of your life. Thus, it is always important to fight a charge, no matter how insignificant you think it is. Even if you just want to get the case over with and get back to your life, pleading guilty or taking a plea deal could work against you. Always consult with an attorney first before pleading guilty to make sure you are doing what is actually best for you and your future.

What Are Possible Defenses?

Now that you know it is in your best interest to fight the charge, it is important to understand what defenses can you expect in your case. Every case is unique—the facts and circumstances vary widely. Your defense depends on the facts and circumstances.

First and foremost, a strong defense is always one where your Houston criminal defense lawyer uses pre-trial motions to challenge evidence and weaken that State's case, and then—if it goes to trial—an effort is made to continue to challenge the evidence and weaken the State's case. Challenging evidence can mean impeaching witness testimony or refuting forensic evidence, among many other strategies that may be appropriate in your specific case.

Second, there are a number of affirmative and general defenses that could apply in disorderly conduct cases. These include:

  • You have an affirmative defense according to the disorderly conduct statute if you were significantly provoked before you threatened or verbally abused the other person.
  • You did not use fighting words even if your language included profanity or vulgar terms.
  • You reasonably feared for your own safety and well-being or the safety of another person when you began to fight with the other person.
  • You reasonably feared for your own safety and well-being or the safety of another person when you displayed or fired a gun.
  • You reasonably feared bodily harm by a dangerous wild animal when you discharged your firearm.
  • You did not act with lewd intent when you were charged with peeping into another person's room, home, etc.
  • You did not know people could see you when you exposed yourself.
  • You simply did not commit the act with which you were charged.

Contact Our Houston, TX Disorderly Conduct Lawyer

If you have been charged with disorderly conduct, Houston criminal defense lawyer Doug Murphy will aggressively and comprehensively defend your case. His capabilities have been recognized by the legal community, which has endorsed his name through accolades and frequent invitations to speak at seminars so that he can provide his insight and teach legal defense skills to other criminal defense attorneys throughout Texas and the United States. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today at 713-229-8333.

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