A drunken wedding guest loudly argues with his girlfriend in a public parking lot.

A frustrated college student curses angrily in a public park because her cell phone just died.

The cops show up and place both people under arrest. Would you be surprised to know that they are both being charged with the same crime?

Public disorderly conduct, also known as disorderly conduct, is an umbrella term for a charge that covers a wide variety of human behaviors, including public intoxication.

What is disorderly conduct?

Merriam Webster defines the term “disorderly” as “causing a problem . . . by making a lot of noise, behaving violently, etc.”

While South Carolina law lays down a few guidelines about what is considered to be disorderly conduct, people often interpret those guidelines in different ways. One person’s notion of “disorderly conduct” could be another person’s notion of “living life to the fullest.”

What is more, the law fails to address every questionable situation that might qualify as disorderly conduct.

According to statute 16-17-530 of South Carolina law, you are guilty of disorderly conduct if:

  • You appear to be “grossly intoxicated” in a public place
  • You behave in a “boisterous” manner, whether intoxicated or not, in a public place
  • You use vulgar language in a public place or within earshot of a church or school
  • You shoot a firearm within 50 yards of a public roadway while under the influence—or while pretending to be under the influence. An exception is made for those who fire a gun on their own premises.

Because lawmakers worded the statute so broadly, it is important to understand how the specific terms are defined. In particular, the terms “public place” and “gross intoxication” can be confusing.

What is a “public place?”

Churches, schools, parks, roads, and stores are public places. However, this list does not cover every possibility. If you are facing a disorderly conduct charge, the space where your incident occurred may or may not be considered public.

Notably, the police can nab you for disorderly conduct in a place that is considered public even if no one else is around. A place being populated is not a requirement for it to be considered public.

What is “gross intoxication?”

No legal definition for “gross intoxication” exists. Yet, you can catch all sorts of legal trouble for being grossly intoxicated. The ambiguous nature of this term is certainly frustrating.

South Carolina courts generally agree that a visibly drunk person is grossly intoxicated. Such a person might slur his speech or walk with difficulty. He might yell obscenities, engage in dangerous behavior, or display other forms of poor judgment.

What are some examples of disorderly conduct?

Because the legal terms are so vague, it is helpful to examine some specific examples of disorderly conduct.

An officer might arrest you for disorderly conduct if you

  • fight in a public place, causing a scene,
  • curse loudly on a city street during a peaceful protest,
  • fire a gun within half a mile of an interstate highway, or
  • walk down the street while intoxicated.

What’s the penalty for disorderly conduct?

The punishment includes a fine or jail time, but not both. Details are in the below table.

ChargeClassificationFineJail Time
Disorderly ConductMisdemeanorUp to $100Up to 30 days

Notably, this is not the only type of disorderly conduct penalty you could face.

Under some circumstances, South Carolina law penalizes with even more vigor those who disturb a religious worship session.

What is “disturbance of religious worship”?

South Carolina lawmakers penned a separate statute that addresses the unwanted disturbance of religious worship.

If you disrupt a religious meeting at a place of worship, such as a church or synagogue, you could face a disorderly conduct charge. Even if the meeting does not occur at a house of worship, it is a crime to disturb people who are participating in religious group activities.

Once again, South Carolina fails to provide a statute that addresses all possible scenarios. However, we do know that it is a crime to disrupt a religious meeting with:

  • drunken behavior
  • inappropriate language
  • attempting to sell “spirituous liquors”
  • other forms of willful or malicious intent

Convicted persons could face a fine, jail time, or a combination of the two, as defined in the below table.

ChargeClassificationJail TimeFine
Disturbance of Religious WorshipMisdemeanorBetween 30 days and 1 yearBetween $20 and $100

What is the best way to defend a disorderly conduct charge?

If you are charged with disorderly conduct, you need an attorney who understands the ins and outs of South Carolina law. Your attorney might defend you using one of the following lines of reasoning:

You were not drunk

For example, if you suffer from a disorder like depression or autism—and the disorder causes you to look or act drunk—your attorney may argue that you were wrongly accused of gross intoxication.

You were not out of control

For example, if a cop arrested you based on your hairstyle or body piercings, your attorney may argue that your behavior was not disorderly. Rather, the law enforcement officer judged your character inappropriately.

You were not in public at the time

For example, if you argued with another person in the privacy of your home—and the argument did not disrupt or physically harm you or the other person—your attorney may argue that you acted within your rights as a private citizen.

What should you do now?

A disorderly conduct charge in South Carolina is more than just a slap on the wrist. If convicted, the charge could drastically change your life.

Do not fight the courts alone. Call one of our qualified South Carolina attorneys today at 843-853-3310 or use our online form. We will help you navigate this tricky situation so you can enjoy the best possible outcome.

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