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Shouting and Cursing Isn’t a Crime

teenager.jpgDisorderly conduct is something every one of us has witnessed at one point in our lives. And yet, for this conduct to rise to a level of being “criminal”, more is required than one might think. So, let’s review how tough it can be to prove a case of disorderly conduct. The charge is found in Florida Statutes 877.03 (2008), and it contains a list of activities that are considered “disorderly”. The statute says that “Whoever commits such acts as are of (1) a nature to corrupt the public morals, or (2) outrage the sense of public decency, or (3) affect the peace and quiet of persons who may witness them, or (4) engages in such conduct as to constitute a breach of the peace or disorderly conduct, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Sounds a tad circular, right? You’re guilty of disorderly conduct if you engage in conduct that constitutes disorderly conduct?

Now, reviewing the case of C.N. v. State will shed some light on how the court’s apply the sometimes confusing laws of disorderly conduct. 49 So.3d 931 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2010). The juvenile defendant named “C.N.” was found to have committed the offenses of disorderly conduct and resisting an officer without violence. C.N. was in a crowd of teenagers hanging out after a dance in Lakeland. The Lakeland Police Department received a number of complaints about noise, property damage, and fighting. The officers described the scene as chaotic, with many teens ignoring police commands, thus several teens were arrested (this caused the crowd to calm down a bit). One particular girl, C.N., was still shouting and using foul language. The officers feared her words would instigate a fight, so an officer told C.N. to move along. She refused. The officer attempted to move her, but she tensed up, continuing to curse.

As you might expect, the state argued that C.N.’s words incited other to fight, thus constituting a breach of peace, but the court found that no evidence was presented to support their theory (no one was fighting).The court overturned C.N.’s convictions, holding in part that “to prove disorderly conduct based on words alone, the State must show that the words either caused a crowd to gather, thereby resulting in safety concerns, or that the words incited a crowd to engage in an immediate breach of the peace.” The court pointed to several other cases in which shouting and profanity did not constitute disorderly conduct, including C.H.C. v. State, 988 So.2d 1145, 1146-47 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008) (holding that screaming and yelling profanities at deputies, without inciting a breach of the peace, was not disorderly conduct); A.S.C. v. State, 14 So.3d 1118 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009) (stating that juvenile’s loudness and profanity was not disorderly conduct when no evidence showed that the juvenile was trying to incite a crowd or that she had caused a crowd to gather and present a safety risk); and W.L. v. State, 769 So.2d 1132 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000) (noting that it was not disorderly conduct for a juvenile to stand in a crowd of 15-20 people, yelling profanities at the police).

I’ve been defending criminal cases in Orlando since 1993, and there’s quite a few clients that come to me and say “Yea John, I was pretty out of control the other night, what am I facing?” I say, don’t be so hard on yourself! Depending on the facts, you may be facing dismissal, so hang in there and get yourself a good attorney.