Virginia Disorderly Conduct Laws and Criminal Defense

Virginia Criminal Lawyer Explains Disorderly Conduct

…and, what do you need to know about a local Ashburn charge?

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Code of Virginia § 18.2-415 – is a Class 1 misdemeanor. It may also be an offense charged under a municipal or City ordinance (e.g., in Fairfax, it may appear on a Summons as 5-1-4). It is not to be confused with public intoxication § 18.2-388. At the outset, it is important to understand the maximum possible penalties:

  • 12 months in jail
  • $2,500 plus court costs
  • criminal record for life

What is Virginia Disorderly Conduct?

In the most basic sense, Disorderly Conduct is only the appropriate charge if the defendant:

  • Intentionally or recklessly
  • caused public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm
  • in a public place

Additionally, if the conduct had a direct tendency to cause violence by a person(s) at whom the conduct is directed, it is considered disorderly. What about free speech? And, is this the same thing as public intoxication? These are frequent questions asked of our Fairfax criminal lawyer.

Is public intoxication the same thing as disorderly conduct?

This is a great question because alcohol is sometimes a factor behind alleged disorderly conduct. But a person cannot be guilty of both disorderly conduct and some other offense, if the charges stem from the same conduct (§ 18.2-388 covers profanity and public intoxication). While the law states that an intoxicated person who disrupts a government meeting, memorial service, religious service, school activity, or other public meeting may be guilty of the disorderly conduct code section, it also is important to realize that if the conduct could be prosecuted pursuant to any other criminal law, then disorderly conduct is not the appropriate charge.

How Can a Virginia Criminal Lawyer Fight a Disorderly Conduct Charge?

While every case could potentially have facts and circumstances giving rise to various legal strategies, two of the most common points for a Virginia criminal defense attorney to analyze are:

  1. The area where the alleged disorderly conduct took place (was it public?); and,
  2. Whether or not a different crime should have been charged

An attorney might take a case to trial and argue that the prosecution has not made a case. For example, if the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the elements of the offense are met, then the court must find the defendant not guilty. Our Fairfax and Northern Virginia criminal lawyer knows the importance of strategically negotiating before trial, so as not to reveal too much information about the ultimate strategy (in case a trial is necessary).

Right to Free Speech?

disorderly conduct lawyer virginiaSometimes, a person’s First Amendment Constitutional Freedom of Speech rights are at issue. The time and location are two important factors for a court, defense attorney, and prosecutor to consider.  For example, screaming that there is a fire (when there is not a fire) in a crowded movie theater is not protected speech, because it can lead to panic and possible injury. The words themselves are protected by the First Amendment, but the time, manner, and place of the speech may remove the Constitutional protection. Every case should be analyzed according to its facts, because very similar cases may contain subtle differences leading to vastly different outcomes.

Virginia Cases Involving Disorderly Conduct

Note: while we have experience handling disorderly conduct in Virginia, we do not ever post such intricate details about former clients. The following examples are from the Virginia Court of Appeals, and involve defendants with whom we have no relationship. A disorderly conduct conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeals in Virginia after reviewing a case involving a man who was stopped for a traffic infraction, who jumped out of the vehicle, and shouted obscenities.1 The court seemed to give much weight to the fact that the individual was disobeying the officer who was in the process of writing a ticket. In another case, a defendant’s conviction was upheld where he continually asked inappropriate questions at a county board of supervisors meeting. After being asked to leave the podium, he was forcibly removed because he was preventing other citizens from asking their questions or offering their comments.2 Unlike the first two examples, the Court of Appeals found the following conduct did not rise to the level of disorderly: a man who was walking while pushing a bicycle was asked to come over and talk to an officer. The man was yelling and shouting (saying at one point, he was tired of the police harassing him). The man was uncooperative and even so loud that nearby residents came out of their apartments.3  You can read this decision courtesy of, right here.

Strongly Consider Hiring a Virginia Criminal Attorney

Since this is considered more serious than many other criminal misdemeanors (e.g., a first time marijuana possession charge is an unclassified misdemeanor with a maximum 30 day jail sentence), as a Fairfax criminal lawyer serving Northern Virginia court systems, I believe it to be extremely important to hire a competent and experienced Virginia criminal lawyer. Disorderly Conduct is a criminal offense, not a mere infraction. I point this out because I often hear people incorrectly state that they have received a disorderly conduct ticket. Do not confuse a Virginia Uniform Summons (the yellow form all defendants receive after they are charged with a traffic infraction or criminal offense) as a mere traffic or non-criminal ticket. My firm’s headquarters is located in Fairfax, Virginia. Too often, I see people attempt to represent themselves when faced with this (and other) criminal charges. The problem with this approach is that it will be the charged individual’s word against the police officer’s. Typically, a judge will believe the police officer’s account of the events leading up to the charge. Furthermore, an unrepresented individual will not have a chance to negotiate a plea, or make an argument for the charge to be dropped before the case is heard. Having an attorney handle the case will allow for this opportunity. Additionally, if a person is found guilty (or pleads guilty), an expungement in Virginia is practically impossible. Vincenzes Law, PLLC serves most Northern Virginia court systems including (but not limited to) Fairfax County, Prince William, Stafford, Loudoun, Alexandria, Herndon, Vienna, Manassas, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and others. For a complete list, see our service areas page. To reach our firm, dial 888.695.6565 or 703.665.3719. Alternatively, send us a message online and one of our team members will respond as soon as possible.

Virginia Cases Cited on this Page

[1] Keyes v. City of Va. Beach, 16 Va. App. 198, 428 S.E.2d 766 (1993). [2] Mannix v. Commonwealth, 31 Va. App. 271, 522 S.E.2d 885 (2000). [3] Ford v. Commonwealth, 474 S.E.2d 848, 23 Va. App. 137 (1996).

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Brenton D. Vincenzes is a lifelong Fairfax County resident and Fairfax Criminal Defense Lawyer. He is a member of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National College of DUI Defense, NORML, and has been awarded the following in 2014-15: Top 100 Trial Lawyer (National Trial Lawyers) Top 40 Under 40 Trial Lawyer (National Trial Lawyers) Nationally Ranked Top 10 Under 40 Defense Attorney (National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys) 10 Best in Client Satisfaction for Criminal Defense (American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys) Nationally Ranked Top 1% Attorney Award Recipient (National Association of Distinguished Counsel) As a local leader, Mr. Vincenzes mentors troubled youths, volunteers his time to serve at his church, takes select pro bono clients, and strives to improve the community. Mr. Vincenzes represents men, women, and juveniles through zealous and diligent advocacy, strategic planning, and skilled trial work preparation. Mr. Vincenzes' areas of criminal law practice are broad, and include most felonies and misdemeanors such as: reckless driving, DUI & DWI, drug offenses, assault and battery, domestic violence, assault on an officer, destruction of property, alcohol offenses, firearm offenses, larceny, shoplifting, embezzlement, fraud, and other theft offenses, and moving traffic violations among others. His private legal services are available in most Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, Arlington County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, Stafford County, Alexandria, Manassas, Leesburg, South Riding, and other cities and towns.

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