A broad term describing conduct that disturbs the peace or endangers the morals, health, or safety of a community.
Unlike the offense of breach of the peace, which originated under common law, disorderly conduct is strictly a statutory crime. It is commonly considered a broader term than breach of the peace and, under some statutes, breach of the peace is an element of disorderly conduct.
The elements of disorderly conduct vary from one jurisdiction to another. Most statutes specify the misconduct that constitutes the offense. Acts such as the use of vulgar and obscene language in a public place, vagrancy, loitering, causing a crowd to gather in a public place, or annoying passengers on a mode of public transportation have been regarded as disorderly conduct by statute or ordinance. The offense is not committed unless the act complained of clearly falls within the statute.
In most jurisdictions, the decision of whether or not the act complained of is disorderly conduct is made by a judge. Following this determination, a jury decides whether or not the accused is guilty of the offense, provided there is a question of fact to be decided.
The punishment for disorderly conduct is usually fixed by statute. Under most statutes the penalty consists of a fine, imprisonment, or both. Some statutes provide that an accused cannot be imprisoned for disorderly conduct unless he or she has been given an opportunity to pay a fine and has defaulted on the payment.