Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly conduct is one of the most common charges in Arizona. Police love to issue these charges because it is sort of a “catch-all” and can be charged in a wide variety of circumstances with not a lot of evidence. 

What is the law for Disorderly Conduct charges?

There are several ways a person can be charged with Disorderly Conduct in Arizona, as detailed by the statute A.R.S. 13-2904, which details six different types of disorderly conduct. They are summarized here.
A person commits disorderly conduct if, with intent to disturb the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family or person, or with knowledge of doing so, such person:
  1. Engages in fighting, violent, or seriously disruptive behavior; or
  2. Makes unreasonable noise; or
  3. Uses abusive or offensive language or gestures to any person present in a manner likely to provoke immediate physical retaliation by such person; or
  4. Makes any protracted commotion, utterance or display with the intent to prevent the transaction of the business of a lawful meeting, gathering or procession; or
  5. Refuses to obey a lawful order to disperse issued to maintain public safety in dangerous proximity to a fire, a hazard or any other emergency; or
  6. Recklessly handles, displays or discharges a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.

As can be seen, this is very generic and not easy to interpret.

What exactly is disturbing the peace or quiet?

What is considered seriously disruptive behavior and who is the judge of what constitutes that conduct?

What type of noise is unreasonable?

What type of conduct is likely to provoke immediate retaliation and what exactly constitutes the likeliness of response

These are just a few questions that make this statute difficult to interpret. This is also a reason the police write a lot of these violations. The law is so broad that it can include virtually anything.

What are the penalties for disorderly conduct?

Most types of disorderly conduct are Class 1 Misdemeanors, except subsection 6, which involves the use of a firearm and raises the severity to become a Class 6 Felony.
A Class 1 Misdemeanor is highest classification of misdemeanor that exists in Arizona and carries the most serious potential penalties, which includes:
  • Up to 6 months jail
  • Fines and fees of $2,500 plus surcharges
  • Up to 5 years probation
The potential penalties for being charged with disorderly conduct that involves a weapon are much more severe and includes a presumptive prison term of 1 year for a first offense felony. Probation may be eligible depending upon a person’s prior history.

When are people charged with disorderly conduct?

The most common situations we see people charged with disorderly conduct are under paragraphs 1 or 2, in situations involving fighting or making noise.

Most often, this happens in domestic situations where a couple or group of friends get into an argument and a neighbor or another person calls the police.

In the vast majority of cases, these are just temporary arguments or misunderstandings that do not require the police to be involved at all.

Unfortunately, when the police arrive it is almost a certainty that someone will be arrested as a result.

Another common situation where the police charge disorderly conduct is in nightlife locations, such as old town Scottsdale, where there is a lot of commotion and activity.

In some situations, an individual may have too much to drink and cause a disturbance. In other situations, people we work with are the victim of the conduct of another individual but are charged with disorderly conduct nonetheless.

In many situations involving nightlife, the police make little effort to actually investigate the cause of the problem, and instead arrest everyone and decide to let the courts sort it out later.

That approach unfortunately causes a lot of hardship to those who were not responsible nor contributed to the situation. In many cases they still face charges, have to consult with a lawyer, and risk having a criminal record over a situation that they did not cause.

What happens after an arrest for disorderly conduct?

As discussed above, people are commonly arrested for disorderly conduct.

Police do little to investigate and often blow situations completely out of proportion. Their philosophy is to make the arrest and let the prosecutor and the court deal with the rest of the case.

In most cases domestic situations, the person arrested for disorderly conduct will spend several hours or the night in jail until they see a judge, often the next morning.

The judge will often set release conditions, which may include not returning to the scene where the disorderly conduct is alleged to occur. This is massively disruptive, as in most cases this means the individual cannot return back to their place of residence.

These release conditions can be modified to allow the person to return back to their residence, but until the judge modifies the order that person may have to stay elsewhere.

In cases that do not involve a domestic dispute, the individual arrested may be released more quickly and told not to return to the scene, for example, a bar or a restaurant. They will be given a new court date in approximately 30 days.

What happens in Court for a disorderly conduct case?

Disorderly conduct, being a misdemeanor, follows the same criminal procedure as any other case. Meaning the case will progress alongside people charged with other offenses like DUI, assault, domestic violence, etc.

The first court date is most often an arraignment. This is where the Judge explains the maximum penalty and accepts either a plea of guilty or not guilty.

In most cases, the appropriate plea to enter is a plea of a not guilty, which allows the case to proceed forward. Pleading guilty closes the case and ends the possibility of providing a defense.

In some cases, the arraignment is completed while a person is in custody, and the next court date that is on the calendar is called a Pre-Trial Conference.

A Pre-Trial Conference is an proceeding in court between the prosecutor and the defense (either the defendant alone or the defendant’s attorney) that is informal in nature and which has the primary purpose of discussing issues that are developing in the case.

In a disorderly conduct situation, for example, our office requests everything the prosecutor has in their file that relate to the charges. This is called discovery, and when charged with a crime the defense has a legal right to access this material. It often includes:

  • Police reports and officer notes
  • Witness statements
  • Dash cam or body cam footage
  • Surveillance camera footage if occurring at an establishment
    911 call recordings
  • Impounded phone messages, text messages, voicemails
  • Jail video recordings

All of this evidence is important to gather so the defense knows what exists and what each bit of evidence contains.

This material is requested prior to the pre-trial conference and often provided at this first setting. In some instances, this material is not available at the first setting but will trickle in as the case progresses.

It is not unusual to have several different pre-trial conferences to resolve issues. In most situations, the prosecutor will offer a plea agreement to resolve the case, but unless the plea provides a substantial benefit there may be no reason to accept the offer.

What are common defenses in a Disorderly Conduct case?

The strongest defenses center around the availability (or unavailability) evidence. In disorderly conduct situations, there is often nobody to actually testify against the person being accused.

For example, in a domestic situation, the entire case may have arisen from a misunderstanding or miscommunication. Often times, after the arrest has occurred, no one involved has any interest in seeing the case move forward.

The other people present may not want the person arrested to have a conviction or the people who called the police may have no interest in being involved in the case any further, since the situation has calmed down and resolved itself.

In these circumstances, certain rules of evidence prevent testimony from coming into court during a trial that would cause a court to find a person guilty.

In other situations, witness may not longer be around or interested in testifying. For example, bar bouncers or other patrons at an establishment may not be able to be contacted or may no longer be in Arizona as the case progresses.

Many people have no interest in spending their time involved in court proceedings, as they have their own lives to lead.

These are a few examples where the government and the prosecutors have weak or no evidence to move forward with their case.

There are many nuances and strategic considerations that must be taken into account to ensure these defenses are implemented properly, so it is important to consult with an attorney before moving to take a case to trial on this basis.

What are common outcomes in a disorderly conduct case?

Prosecutors often offer a plea agreement or a “deal” asking the person charged with the crime to plead guilty to the charge. They will argue that they could ask for jail time, but since they are not, there will be no jail time requested and therefore they are making a deal.

In reality, the vast majority of disorderly conduct cases to not rise to the level of seriousness or harm that would require jail or cause a judge to impose harsh penalties. In these cases the prosecutor’s offer is not a deal at all.

Instead, the prospect of trial and the lack of solid evidence create leverage in many situations that cause prosecutors to offer better deals.

In many situations, a better deal includes an offer known as diversion, where the case will ultimately be dismissed upon successful completion of classes or some other program. Depending on the nature of the case, these classes can range anywhere from 8 hours to 56 hours.

In some cases, prosecutors can be persuaded to dismiss the case entirely. As explained, the police very often arrest everyone in a close vicinity and decide to let the system sort it out later.

This results in innocent people being arrested. After an investigation that includes requesting videos, reports, completing interviews and building a defense, evidence can be persuasive enough to encourage a prosecutor to dismiss the case.

If the case is weak but the prosecutor is not willing to negotiate beyond offering a plea of guilt to disorderly conduct, our office encourages people we work with to take the case to trial to fight for a better result rather than accept a guilty plea.

What if this is my first disorderly conduct offense?

A first offense disorderly conduct is more likely to be resolved with a diversion or a dismissal offer than another individual with prior convictions, but it is heavily dependent upon the specifics of the case. In some situations, a prosecutor will refuse to offer diversion despite having a first offense.

Our team helps people through a process known as mitigation, to help identify all the positive aspects of a person’s life beyond what happened during this incident. We discuss a person’s background, record, employment, family, future plans, special licenses, and other concerns.

The goal is to humanize the individual so that the court and the prosecutor know more about the person beyond what they see in the police report. This can be very helpful in the negotiation phase of the case.

I’ve  been charged with Disorderly Conduct and want to speak with a Lawyer.

We can help! Our defense team practices exclusively in criminal defense and we do not take cases from any other field of law (family, business, personal injury).

We have helped hundreds of people charged with crimes like disorderly conduct successfully resolve their case, protect their record and fight for a winning outcome.

Hiring our office means it is very unlikely that you will have to attend court for the majority of the case. We may need you to be present one time at the end. Otherwise, our team handles all of the preliminary hearings on your behalf and we keep you apprised of all developments along the way.

Contact our office at (480) 400-1355 to schedule a complimentary case evaluation with our team.