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Disorderly Conduct in Wisconsin

Disorderly conduct is governed by Wis. Stat. § 947.01, which states:


  1. Whoever, in a public or private place, engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tends to cause or provoke a disturbance is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.

  2. Unless other facts and circumstances that indicate a criminal or malicious intent on the part of the person apply, a person is not in violation of, and may not be charged with a violation of, this section for loading a firearm, or for carrying or going armed with a firearm or a knife, without regard to whether the firearm is loaded or the firearm or the knife is concealed or openly carried.


As you might already be thinking, this covers a lot of ground! Disorderly conduct is a broad statute, and there is a lot of discretion afforded to prosecutors when applying it (sometimes fortunately, sometimes unfortunately). Determining if something falls within the statute, particularly the ‘otherwise disorderly conduct’ section, often comes down to the judgement of those at the scene where the conduct occurred. Disorderly conduct is one of the most commonly charged crimes due to its wide applicability. In Wisconsin, disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor, is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.


Although disorderly conduct classically applies to conduct in public spaces, the statute covers private activity as well. An altercation occurring within one’s home can constitute disorderly conduct, even if it did not affect the public directly. Rather, there just needs to be a real possibility that the disturbance could spill over and disrupt the peace, order, or safety of the surrounding community. If an act necessitates the involvement of the police, creates a concern within the community, or evokes fear in others, it can be considered to have ‘spilled over into the community’. However, conduct that only offends the sensibilities of a particular individual generally does not fall within disorderly conduct, because the conduct must be unreasonable and have a tendency to provoke a disturbance. Consider the following example:


Sam decided to skateboard through a different neighborhood in town than he usually does, without knowing that one of the residents had a particular sensitivity to the noise of skateboards. After Sam passed her house, the resident called the police, hoping that Sam would be charged with disorderly conduct. It is unlikely that Sam will be charged with disorderly conduct, however, because he did not know of this resident’s sensitivity to the noise of a skateboard. Reasonably riding a skateboard would not be the sort of conduct that would tend to cause or provoke a disturbance, but rather, it would only offend a hypersensitive individual.


A few examples of what is commonly charged as disorderly conduct include: loud arguments, physical fighting, making serious threats, and swearing or yelling at a police officer.


The disorderly conduct statute in Wisconsin has been challenged on the constitutional grounds of vagueness and overbreadth in the past, but the courts have held that when it is correctly applied, the statute is neither overly broad nor overly vague.


If you or someone you know has been charged with disorderly conduct, contact us today for a consultation at 888-367-8198, or email us at info@leattys.com.