Recently, Dr. Gates from Harvard was arrested on a Disorderly Conduct charge. A crime most people aren't aware of, Disorderly Conduct is basically causing a disturbance. This arrest has started, what will undoubtedly be a short lived, debate. Time magazine has run a story discussing what Disorderly Conduct is, how it came to be, and its current application.
The way I look at this statute is it is designed for those people who commit criminally stupid acts. I have a Disorderly Conduct case possibly going to trial next week. This guy decides to take a walk, at night, down fairly busy street, lays down in the street, and gets in a minor tussle with the police. The guy is just a d-bag. What Disorderly Conduct charges allow police to do is maintain order. Whether this charge should be a Class A Misdemeanor is a issue, but whether this should be a crime, I think, is pretty clear. Whether Dr. Gates actions were bad enough to arrest him is also arguable (I think this arrest was a little extreme).
The issue I have with this charge is how much discretion officers normally have. I think a better system would have, in the statute, the various situations which fall under the law. For example, it could be a) causing a group of over 5 people to feel alarm, b) Obstructing traffic on a public way, c) disturbing people between the hours of midnight and 5am. This would give the police, and DAs guidance on what is Disorderly Conduct.
TOR here: I have a couple thoughts on this. Since I am on admin here they will go into the post not the comments section. Ryan and I have talked about this in the past. His opinion may have changed some in subsequent years but mine is more or less the same. Simply put I believe Cops need a fairly open ended law to deal with people who are just being total asshats. Some places call it disorderly conduct and others call it disturbing the peace. I am not a lawyer or anything but to me this is a just fine. The wide discretion Cops have with this charge is needed to deal with its open ended ness and maintain order.
Simply put it would be impossible to very specifically describe every possible stupid thing some idiot could do. A guy standing outside of a nice restaurant banging a giant dildo on the window screaming the lyrics to the Frank Sinatra tune "I did it my way" at dinner time should be politely asked to knock it the fuck off and then if he fails to comply he should be arrested. Do we need the statute to say that banging a giant dildo against the window while screaming Frank Sinatra songs is illegal to know you should not do that? I think not.
If an individual Cop gets a little too enthusiastic about arresting people for disturbing the peace odds are high that the DA will just choose not to charge the person. If a stupid case gets past the DA the Judge and Jury should take care of it. I may be mistaken but I don't think a whole lot of people are getting convicted of unjustified disorderly conduct/ disturbing the peace charges on a broad national scale.