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Virginia Disorderly Conduct Lawyer

Virginia’s disorderly conduct law prohibits people from being drunk, or otherwise incapacitated, in public, disturbing the peace, or making a nuisance of themselves. In this way, the Commonwealth’s version of disorderly conduct is not different from many other states. However, there are certain idiosyncrasies that make Virginia’s law unique, and knowing these variations is what makes a Virginia disorderly conduct attorney a valuable advocate if you are charged with such an offense.

Disorderly conduct is a serious charge in Virginia, but often, elements that make up the charge are not easy to understand.  Because of this, many who are charged plead guilty without a complete understanding that the facts alleged, though not “innocent” of all wrongdoing, may not necessarily support a conviction.  There are other disorderly conduct associated charges that are not as serious and come with lesser penalties.  This is why it is important to speak with a Virginia disorderly conduct lawyer to help defend you.

Disorderly Conduct in Virginia

The actual crime of disorderly conduct [Virginia Code Section 18.2-415] applies to several acts, behaviors, and types of public locations:

  • 2-415(A) – An action in a public street, park, or building, that is meant to directly cause violence by the person to whom the suspect directs his or her “aggression.” In common terms, picking a fight with someone anywhere in public is disorderly conduct.
  • 2-415(B)- While intoxicated, disrupting a funeral or memorial service or a government meeting or any form of inciting violent behavior by anyone at such public gatherings.
  • 2-415(C)- Disrupting the operation of any school or school-sponsored activity (such as an athletic event or field trip), of taking actions intending to incite a violent response by anyone attending or administering a school or its functions. This subsection contemplates being intoxicated or sober.

Often, a fight or public confrontation that gets out of hand ends up with participants being charged with disorderly conduct.  But sometimes disorderly conduct is charged when a police officer does not have another specific violation to charge. Typically, the most difficult component for the prosecution to prove is whether or not the conduct of the suspect was intending to cause public inconvenience, alarm, or create an unnecessary risk thereof.  And this disorderly conduct does not include utterances, though there is a similar charge that covers provocative statements meant to incite (by using abusive language) [Virginia Code Section 18.2-416].

Disorderly Conduct Penalties

The broad and sometimes indistinct scope of disorderly conduct can also make it subject to abuse by law enforcement, especially if it is the only charge that is filed against a suspect.  Disorderly conduct (VA Code 18.2-415, as cited above) is a class 1 misdemeanor as defined in VA Code Section 18.2-11(a).  Those convicted could face a sentence of up to 12 months in jail and a maximum $2,500 fine.  But many local communities have their own disorderly conduct ordinances that generally parallel the Commonwealth statute as far as establishing behavior.  The primary difference is that most of them carry lower penalties, usually a class 2 to 4 misdemeanor, which involves less jail time and lower fines.  So, check with your Virginia disorderly conduct lawyer to find out whether local statutes apply.

Other “Disorderly Conduct”–type Offenses

There is a group of similar offenses that have specific language in their statutes to support individual “public conduct” related charges.  Most of these offenses are misdemeanors.  They include:

  • Public intoxication [VA Code Section 18.2-388] – The actual term in the statute is “profane swearing and intoxication in public,” which means the suspect must behave in a provocative manner (swearing) and be intoxicated. (In the opinion of the arresting officer, no blood chemical test needs to be administered, according to the statute.)  It is prosecuted as a class 4 misdemeanor, with punishment being a fine of up to $250. In many instances, public intoxication or swearing is a pre-payable offense, meaning a court appearance may not be required.
  • Disorderly conduct on grounds [VA Code Section 37.2-429] – The second part of this statute includes “interference with officers.” The offense is limited to being committed on the grounds of a hospital or “training center.”  This would seem relatively harmless until the “interference” is committed against licensed officers.  This is a class 1 misdemeanor.
  • Abusive language (which we discussed above) [VA Code Section 18.2-416 ] is punished as a class 3 misdemeanor, with a potential penalty including a $500 fine.
  • Obstructing free passage of others [VA Code Section 18.2-404] – This involves an individual or group (such as a picket line) that obstructs normal access to any public place or private property that is viewed as being accessible to the public (such as an office building or retail store). This, too, is a class 1 misdemeanor (up to $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail).
  • Unlawful assembly [VA Code Section 18.2-406] – This statute involves three or more people who gather in order to advance any lawful or unlawful cause and, in so doing, attempt to influence events through violence or threats of violence. Normally, it is charged as a class 1 misdemeanor, but if any participant carries a firearm or deadly weapon, the charge against them can be a class 5 felony.  What makes this particular statute so interesting, from the viewpoint of an experienced criminal defense attorney, however, is the very specific language used in constructing this statute to attempt to make it pass constitutional scrutiny.
  • Participating in a riot [VA Code Section 18.2-414] (as a result of unlawful assembly) may only be a class 1 misdemeanor if you are in the crowd, but if that results in the destruction of property, including pulling things down, or the injury of others, the charge may be elevated to a specific class 6 felony under this statute.

Hiring a Virginia Disorderly Conduct Lawyer

If you have been charged with disorderly conduct, or any related personal conduct violation, you should speak with an experienced, knowledgeable Virginia disorderly conduct attorney as soon as possible to discuss your specific facts and how to best protect your rights while crafting an effective defense strategy.

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