If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of Florida’s laws can be very broad and vague. And Florida Statute 877.03 – which deals with breach of the peace and disorderly conduct – is one of the broadest and vaguest of any of them.
Under the statute, it is a second-degree misdemeanor to:
- Corrupt the public morals;
- Outrage the sense of public decency;
- Commit an act that would affect the quiet of persons who may witness the act;
- Engage in brawling or fighting; or
- Engage in such conduct as to constitute a breach of the peace or disorderly conduct.
Can Speech Count as Disorderly Conduct?
Disorderly conduct charges are often brought against people accused of creating a dangerous situation with their words. However, freedom of speech is a major consideration in such cases. The courts have made it clear that one cannot be convicted of disorderly conduct for merely yelling at others – even if the people they are yelling at are police officers. Using words does not qualify as disorderly conduct unless the words create a danger to others (for example, by inciting a violent reaction from other people in the area.)
A case that serves as an example of this is David Lee Smith v. State. Mr. Smith created a disturbance at a Florida bank when he began loudly cursing after being told that he didn’t qualify for a loan. The police were called, and when an officer arrived, he made vulgar comments and threats toward her. More police arrived, and he was arrested. During his arrest, he resisted, and struck one of the officers.
Mr. Smith was convicted of several offenses, including disorderly conduct. However, a Florida district court reversed the conviction for disorderly conduct. The court held that words can only amount to disorderly conduct if they “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace,” or if the words are known to be false, and they report a physical hazard in circumstances where such a report creates “clear and present danger of bodily harm to others.”
Affrays and Riots
There is also a law, Florida Statute 870.01, dealing with “affrays and riots.” Under the statute, it is a first-degree misdemeanor to be guilty of an “affray,” and third-degree felony to be guilty of a riot (or of inciting or encouraging a riot.) If you’re wondering what an affray is, the Florida court system has established that it means “fighting in a public place to the terror of the people.”
It is a violation of Florida Statute 870.03 for an unlawfully assembled crowd to demolish, begin to demolish, pull down, or destroy any building, ship, or vessel. Violation of the statute is a third-degree felony.
An Attorney Can Help
There are defenses to the charges described above, and a qualified defense attorney will be familiar with them. As a former prosecutor, Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Mark S. Lowry knows how to fight these kinds of charges. If you have any questions about your case, you can call or email his office today.