What should you know about disorderly conduct law in Virginia?

There's a lot of "hot spots" for vacations in Virginia -- and a lot of visitors come prepared to unwind and cut loose for a little while.

What they aren't prepared for, however, is a disorderly conduct charge. Virginia is somewhat strict about what is and is not acceptable in public, and a lot of tourists find themselves in legal trouble after a long day at the beach or some other public attraction.

In Virginia, disorderly conduct generally falls into three different categories:

-- Acting with direct aggression or violence toward someone in a public street, building or another area. For example, trying to start a fight in a bar or getting into an aggressive shoving match with someone on a street corner could both be considered disorderly conduct under the law.

-- Inciting violence during a public gathering, interrupting a funeral service or disrupting a government meeting while intoxicated. Deciding to join in a protest at the wrong time, for example, could land you in trouble if you aren't sure of the legality of the protest. Shouting out a slogan that encourages violence at a political gathering would be another situation that could result in disorderly conduct charges.

-- Interfering with a school activity or any school-related activity (like a high school field trip or a college football game), or trying to incite the students or other attendees into violence. For example, if you happen to be at a university football game and your team loses, trying to incite a gang to trash the opposing team's bus would result in a disorderly conduct charge.

When one of those charges doesn't seem to fit the situation, police officers in Virginia have other laws at their disposal that are regularly enforced. One of those is a law against using abusive language against another person.

While it may seem somewhat extreme if you are from an area of the country that has a more liberal attitude about such things, swearing at someone or cursing them out in public is enough to get you charged with a misdemeanor in Virginia!

Often disorderly conduct charges can be challenged based on whether or not the actions were actually a calculated attempt to "breach the peace," so don't assume that you are without any defense. Instead, let an attorney who handles drunk and disorderly conduct charges provide you with your defense options.

Source: Virginia Decoded, "18.2-415 Disorderly conduct in public places," accessed July 05, 2017

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