Disorderly Conduct

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 272, Section 53 makes “Disorderly Conduct” a crime. Generally speaking, this law is designed to control conduct that disturbs the public. Although the title of this charge gives the impression that it could be applied liberally to anyone who causes a commotion, it has specific elements just like any other crime. In order to be found guilty of this crime, the prosecution has to prove three things beyond a reasonable doubt.

Elements

First, the prosecution must prove that a person did one of the following three things:

  1. Was fighting or threatening,
  2. Was involved in “violent or tumultuous behavior,” or
  3. Created a hazardous or physically offensive condition by doing something that did not serve any legitimate purpose of the person.

Any one of the above will satisfy the first element.

Second, the prosecution must prove that the person’s actions were reasonably likely to affect the public.

Third, the prosecution must prove that the person:

  1. intended to cause a public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or
  2. recklessly created a risk of public inconvenience or alarm.

Either of the above will satisfy the third element.

With regard to a) and b) of the first element, clearly the conduct must be violent in some fashion. With regard to c) of the first element, the activity does not need to be violent, but the person must be doing something that did not serve any legitimate purpose and by doing it must be creating a public safety hazard or a physically offensive condition.

With regard to the second element, to be convicted, the person’s actions must have occurred in a place where the public has access or a substantial group had access.

With regard to a) of the third element, the person must have actually tried to cause a public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm. With regard to b) of the third element, the person need not be trying to cause the problem, but acting recklessly and risking the creation of the problem. A person acts recklessly when he/she consciously ignores, or is indifferent to the probable outcome of his/her actions. In other words, he/she knew that the actions might cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, but chose to take that risk anyway.

Penalties

The language below comes from the statute:

“Disorderly persons . . . for the first offense, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $150. On a second or subsequent offense, such person shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 6 months, or by a fine of not more than $200, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

(Amended in 2009, removing the potential for a jail sentence from a first offense).

If you or someone you know has been charged with Disorderly Conduct, or any other crime, please call and arrange a free consultation in our Dedham Office.