Disorderly Conduct: When Misbehavior Becomes Criminal

In Indiana, the catch-all crime of disorderly conduct isn’t so much defined by statute as it is described in three variations:

If these cats were people, this photo might be said to capture an occurrence of disorderly conduct. As of this writing, however, cats in Indiana are not subject to criminal charges.

A person who recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally:

  1. engages in fighting or in tumultuous conduct;
  2. makes unreasonable noise and continues to do so after being asked to stop; or
  3. disrupts a lawful assembly of persons;

commits disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor.

Because disorderly conduct is so flexible, it’s worth knowing a little something about how it’s applied. Here at the Marc Lopez Law Firm, we’ve never seen a disorderly conduct case filed under the third option, where the State alleges disruption of a lawful assembly. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen—it’s just that this blog will focus more on the first two scenarios involving aggression and noise. Disorderly conduct is one of the more common criminal charges in Indiana, and a Class B misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

If fighting counts as disorderly conduct, how is that different from battery?

The short answer is that disorderly conduct and battery have different standards and are charged under different statutes, even if both labels can sometimes be applied to the same behavior. Indiana defines battery as the knowing or intentional touching of another person in a rude, insolent, or angry manner. This means that every physical fight necessarily involves behavior that could be charged as battery.

It’s likewise safe to say that every physical fight necessarily involves fighting, and the first disorderly conduct option allows the State to charge you for fighting or tumultuous conduct. Fighting hasn’t been given a statutory definition, but the Indiana Supreme Court has adopted a narrow interpretation of the term “covering only physical altercations.” Tumultuous conduct, on the other hand, has been defined by the General Assembly as conduct that results in, or is likely to result in, serious bodily injury to a person or substantial damage to property.

Even though both can involve fighting, the most notable difference between battery and disorderly conduct is that battery charges can increase in severity based on the victim’s injury, whereas disorderly conduct charges can only be aggravated for other reasons (more on this later). Because there’s so much overlap, it’s pretty typical to see disorderly conduct and battery charges filed in conjunction with each other.

Is being too noisy really a crime? 

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees its citizens freedom of expression. No freedom is absolute, though, and expressive conduct can bump up against its limits when it infringes on other people’s right to peace and tranquility. Under the unreasonable noise option of disorderly conduct, the State has to prove that your behavior produced sound that was “too loud for the circumstances.”

This is a flexible standard, and it allows the jury to determine where the line between reasonable and unreasonable is fixed. When a prosecutor files charges under this subsection, it likely means that there’s evidence of a disruption without a physical altercation. Keep in mind that a conviction for this type of disorderly conduct “requires proof of ‘unreasonable noise’ both before and after an official warning.”

Disorderly conduct: A lesser included offense or a lesser crime? 

In the context of battery, disorderly conduct is often both a lesser included offense and a more desirable outcome for the defendant. It’s not unusual for a battery plea negotiation to result in the compromise of a disorderly conduct conviction. From the defendant’s perspective, the primary motivation for this agreement is that the consequences of disorderly conduct are not as serious as those of battery. This is especially true in cases of domestic battery, where a conviction will interfere with the defendant’s right to possess a firearm. It’s also worth noting that the connotations of the phrase disorderly conduct are not nearly as negative as those of domestic battery.

Of course, none of this is to say that a conviction for disorderly conduct is something you can shrug off. All criminal charges should be taken seriously, as well as their potential collateral consequences. If you’re convicted of disorderly conduct (or any other crime), you’ll likely have to carry that conviction for the rest of your life. The only way around this is if you’re eligible to have your criminal record expunged.

What factors can aggravate a disorderly conduct charge? 

As we previously mentioned, battery charges can become more severe based on the damage you cause, but disorderly conduct doesn’t work this way. You can’t get to felony disorderly conduct simply by fighting harder or making even more noise than you had been before. Pursuant to statute, there are only two ways that disorderly conduct can be charged as a Level 6 felony.

The first is where the conduct occurs at an airport and adversely affects airport security. This consideration includes all airport property—including the parking lot—so long as the conduct can be said to have interfered with airport security. The second is where the conduct disrupts a funeral, burial, viewing, funeral procession, or memorial service. In this case, the conduct must occur within 500 feet of the proceeding that’s being disrupted. A Level 6 felony carries a maximum penalty of two-and-a-half years in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Is it worth hiring an attorney for a misdemeanor? 

There’s a popular misconception that a disorderly conduct charge—especially a misdemeanor one—isn’t a big deal. This is almost certainly wrong. No one ever expects to get caught breaking the law, but it happens to people every day, and the potential fallout is very real. Even if you aren’t convicted of anything, your arrest creates a public record that you were charged with a crime. If you attend a college or university, they’ll likely suspend you regardless of the disposition of the criminal case.

If you’re found guilty, your troubles may include expulsion and/or job-related complications. You may end up answering for a single indiscretion for the rest of your adult life. No matter what sort of application we’re talking about—employment, military, academic—a criminal conviction isn’t something you want to have to include. 

When your future is at stake, it’s important to hire knowledgeable and savvy attorneys to fight for you and represent your best interests throughout the entire judicial process. Here at the Marc Lopez Law Firm, we’re always ready and willing to discuss the best way to defend your case. If you or a loved one has been charged with disorderly conduct, give us a call at 317-632-3642. Initial consultations are always free of charge.