Maybe you and some friends went out on the town and were goofing around. Then you started having a little too much fun. You may not have intended to be “disorderly,” but the next thing you know, you’re being charged with public disorderly conduct.

It doesn’t seem fair.

The first thing you need to know about disorderly conduct charges in South Carolina is this: disorderly conduct is a catch all charge.

The law doesn’t even provide specific descriptions of outlawed behavior. For some, it could seems like police officers could say that anything was disorderly.

So let’s talk about this more…

Understanding the Basics of a Disorderly Conduct Charge

SC state law outlines three primary ways a person can commit public disorderly conduct:

  • 1. Public intoxication (drunk in a public place) or behaving in a disorderly or boisterous way
  • 2. Using obscene or profane language on a highway or at any public place, or within hearing distance of a school or church
  • 3. Firing any kind of gun or firearm within 50 yards of any public road while intoxicated or pretending to be intoxicated, except on your own property, without a justifiable cause

If that’s still not clear, you’re not alone. Here are some helpful definitions to make sense of the law.

What is a public place?

The legal definition of a public place is different from what most people might expect. A public place can be indoors or outdoors. It can be publicly or privately owned.

Yes, even private property can be considered “public,” as long as the place is somewhere that the general public can access either by right or by invitation. In other words, a place used for private gatherings and personal uses–like a home–does not count as a “public” place in the eyes of the law, but pretty much everywhere else does.

Examples of public places include:

  • Arenas
  • Auditoriums
  • Clinics
  • Concert halls
  • Education facilities
  • Elevators
  • Hospitals
  • Libraries
  • Lobbies
  • Malls
  • Meeting Rooms
  • Museums
  • Nursing homes
  • Offices
  • Public transportation
  • Restaurants
  • Retail stores
  • Theaters
  • Waiting rooms

What does “disorderly” mean?

There is no exact legal definition of “disorderly.” The law does provide examples and descriptions of what “disorderly” looks like, such as:

  • Boisterous
  • Drunk
  • Obscene
  • Profane

Basically, any kind of disruptive behavior that might be seen as disturbing the peace could be considered disorderly conduct in the eyes of law enforcement.

Know the Penalties for Disorderly Conduct in South Carolina

Classification Fine Jail Time
Misdemeanor Up to $100 Up to 30 days

If you’re convicted of disorderly conduct, the judge hearing your case gets to decide whether you will pay a fine, serve time in jail or both. The judge also has discretion in setting the amount of the fine.

For a first offense, there’s a chance you could be sentenced to or offered a pre-trial intervention (PTI) program or community service instead of jail time. It is not recommended to proceed in this fashion without the advice of a criminal defense attorney.

Of course, there are other consequences of a disorderly conduct charge that are not outlined in the law. For instance, your disorderly conduct arrest could show up on future background checks even if the charges are dismissed. A criminal conviction will definitely appear on background checks.

That can make things difficult for you down the road, like when you’re trying to find a new job or sign a new lease. Getting arrested for disorderly conduct could lead people to brand you as a troublemaker.

If you’ve been charged with disorderly conduct, the best thing you can do for yourself is consult with a criminal defense lawyer. In the meantime, get familiar with the general information about disorderly conduct violations in South Carolina.

Common Questions about Disorderly Conduct

1. Will I go to jail for a public disorderly conduct charge?

Jail time is a theoretical possibility for a disorderly conduct charge. The judge presiding over your case has the power to decide your sentence. There’s a chance that the judge could dismiss the charges if he or she sees fit to do so. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to best address these issues for you.

The judge will consider several factors before making a decision:

  • The facts of your case
  • Your criminal history, if any
  • Other details about your character

2. Do I have to be drunk to get a disorderly conduct charge?

Being drunk is not a requirement to be charged with disorderly conduct. Yet many disorderly conduct charges do involve alcohol. A disorderly charge may also involve weapons, foul or abusive language, and other disruptive behavior.

3. Can disorderly conduct charges be dropped?

Yes, a disorderly conduct charge can be dropped. Just like with other charges, your attorney and the prosecutor can work out a plea deal. Charges can be dropped in the event that mistakes were made by the prosecution or during the investigation of your case, for example.

4. Can disorderly conduct be expunged?

If you meet certain conditions, then your disorderly conduct arrest can be expunged from your record. It is best to hire an attorney before you acquire a criminal record. An expungement means you have already acquired a criminal record. An expungement is technically a legal application process for the records of the charge and arrest to be destroyed. This is usually only an option for minor offenses and first-time offenses with no further arrests during the following 3 years, although a judge ultimately approves or denies a request for expungement.

You could be eligible for expungement if:

  • The charges against you are dismissed
  • You are found not guilty at trial
  • You complete a pre-trial intervention (PTI) program

5. Does disorderly conduct stay on your record?

Yes. Misdemeanor charges or convictions will appear on your criminal record, and they will also show up on background checks.

6. Does a disorderly conduct charge affect employment?

Possibly. As explained above, disorderly conduct charges can appear on background checks. There’s a chance that you could lose your job, depending on your employer. And you may also have difficulty in finding a new job.

7. Will disorderly conduct show on a background check?

Yes, it will.

8. Will disorderly conduct affect my citizenship?

Maybe. If you’re in the process of applying for citizenship, any arrests, misdemeanor or felony charges and convictions could impact your citizenship case. To help your chances, consult with an experienced immigration attorney.

Your immigration lawyer can help you properly report your disorderly conduct charge on your citizenship application. The lawyer can also advise you on what evidence you need to show the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

If you and your attorney can explain away the situation, then you’ll have a better chance of getting your citizenship approved. Regardless of your situation, you should never try to hide any arrests.

9. How serious is disorderly conduct?

In general, disorderly conduct is taken seriously even though it’s a petty offense rather than a felony charge. Naturally, the facts of your case are taken into account. For example, if your case involves a deadly weapon, it will be taken more seriously than a charge for profane language, for instance.

10. Do I need an attorney for a disorderly conduct charge?

Yes, you do need an attorney. Don’t get lulled into a sense of false security by the fact that disorderly conduct is “just” a misdemeanor charge. Even if the possibility of a $100 fine doesn’t seem like much to worry about, keep in mind that you aren’t guaranteed a fine. You could get slapped with a jail sentence.

Jail time can lead to the breakdown of your family relationships and the loss of your job. What’s more, the long-term effects of a negative mark on your background check and being labeled a “troublemaker” should worry you enough to hire an attorney.

Disorderly conduct is technically a minor offense. However, it can have major impacts on your life and your future. An experienced criminal defense attorney can support you through a plea deal or a hearing in criminal courts.

Getting Help With Your Case

You want an attorney in your corner who has experience with criminal cases and disorderly conduct in South Carolina. Contact the attorneys at Coastal Law Firm and schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation.

Call us at (843) 488-5000.

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