Disorderly Conduct Defense Lawyers

Disorderly conduct, sometimes called “disturbance of the peace”, is a common misdemeanor crime in North Carolina. This crime can take many forms, including actions that involve physical violence, public threats, and actions that disrupt or interfere with private or public services. North Carolina also has laws that criminalize some actions related to gangs and riots, though the legal definitions of all these things is rather broad.

If you were arrested for disorderly conduct or related charges damage in North Carolina, you will need the counsel of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. While not all these charges may seem too serious, they can still result in harsh consequences if you are not defended by a skilled lawyer. This includes the possibility of facing felony convictions depending on the circumstances. Whether you are facing a lower-level misdemeanor or felony conviction, this is still a serious matter and you should seek skilled legal representation, like the lawyers at Tarlton | Polk, to protect your rights and freedom.

people on the streets rioting, which is a subset of disorderly conduct charges in North Carolina

Public Disturbance Laws in North Carolina

There are various statutes in North Carolina law that deal with disorderly conduct, including broad laws that target a variety of actions as well as more specified laws.

Disorderly Conduct

In North Carolina, the broad disorderly conduct law defines it as a form of public disturbance that is caused when somebody intentionally engages in any of the following behavior:

  • Fighting: Engaging in a fight, other violent conduct, or conduct that creates a threat of imminent violence.
  • Provoking violence: Making a gesture, expression, statement, display or using abusive language which is intended and likely to provoke violent retaliation and cause a “breach of peace”.
  • Education Disruption: Several actions that involve disrupting education, including:
    • refusing to vacate the school after being instructed to by a law enforcement officer, school officer, public health officer or firefighter.
    • Obstructing entry into any school facilities.
    • Disturbing the peace in a classroom as students are being taught.
    • Disturbing the peace on a school bus.
  • Disturbing funerals and religious ceremonies: disrupting any religious ceremony, including funerals, memorial services, and religious assembly.
  • Disorderly conduct in a public building: disruptive conduct in or near a building that the public has complete or partial access to that is controlled by the state, a public agency, or a private educational or charitable agency.

Generally, the law requires that the actions were performed with the intent of disturbing the peace. This means that disruption caused by accident or that was not meant to cause disruption but did, do not constitute a crime under this law.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor for the first offense. A second conviction is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor, and a third conviction is punished as a class I felony.

Drunk and Disruptive

A person is guilty of this crime when they are intoxicated with alcohol and disruptive in a public place in any of the following ways:

  • Blocking or interfering with traffic on a highway or public vehicular area.
  • Blocking or lying across a passage, sidewalk, or entrance of a building in a way that prevents or interferes with access.
  • Cursing or shouting at others rudely or in an insulting manner.
  • Begging for money or other property.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 3 misdemeanor.

One unique caveat that makes this different from other disorderly conduct charges is that it does not explicitly require that the person acted intentionally. In this case, the question is whether the person willfully and intentionally drank in excess to the point of losing control. This means that  a defendant who is an alcoholic, meaning that they have substantially impaired function due to lack of self-control when it comes to alcohol use, will not be found guilty. The prosecution does need to raise this concern when somebody is faced with this charge, regardless of whether the defense does.

Throwing Objects at Sporting Events

A person is guilty of this crime when they throw, drop, pour, discharge, or place any substance or object in an area where an athletic or sporting event is taking place, in a manner that can cause any of the following:

  • injure participants in the contest or event,
  • injure spectators,
  • damage animals, vehicles, equipment, devices, or other things used in connection to the contest or event.

The substance or object does not need to cause the injury or damage for the defendant to be guilty, it just needs to be determined to likely cause such harm. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 3 misdemeanor.


In North Carolina, an “affray” comes under the same statute as assault and battery, and refers to engaging in a fight in public. There are two kinds of affray crimes in the state and both are misdemeanors: “simple affray” and “aggravated misdemeanor affray”.

Simple Affray

A person is guilty of simple affray if they engage in a fight with at least on other person in a public place, to the terror of the public.

Generally, as affrays involve at least two people, at least two people should face charges. A “fight” is understood to mean willfully engaging in a physical brawl, or agreeing to engage in such brawl. Therefore, friendly play that does not incite fear is not considered an affray. When it comes to “terror of the public”, it is typically enough to have witnesses of the event who were afraid.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor

Aggravated Misdemeanor Affray

This crime has all the elements of simple affray, but with the defendant satisfying any of the following elements:

  • assaults a child under the age of 12
  • assaults an officer or employee of the state, public transit operator, campus police officer, sports official, or school employee or volunteer while they are performing official duties
  • commits an assault in the presence of a minor
  • inflicts serious injury
  • is male at least 18 years old, who assaults a female
  • uses a deadly weapon

A conviction of the above is most often punished as a class A1 misdemeanor, though an assault against a sports official is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor.


Riots in North Carolina are defined as public disturbances involving a group of three or more people which, by disorderly and violent conduct or the threat of such conduct, result in injury or damage to people or property or the threat of such injury or damage.

In essence, North Carolina criminalizes both rioting itself and the incitement of riots that create the threat of rioting. Depending on the circumstances, rioting can constitute a misdemeanor or felony.

Misdemeanor Rioting

A person is guilty of misdemeanor rioting in two possible ways: engaging or inciting a riot.

To be guilty of engaging in misdemeanor rioting, their actions must satisfy all the following elements:

  1. willfully assemble with two or more other people,
  2. engage in a public disturbance that either involves disorderly or violent conduct, or the imminent threat of such conduct, and
  3. causes injury or damage to people or property, or creates a clear and present danger of such injury or damage.

To be guilty of inciting a riot, the person must have willfully urged another person to engage in a riot and, as a result, a riot either occurred or there was a present danger of a riot being created.

In either case, a conviction is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor.

Felony Rioting

Felony rioting is similar to misdemeanor rioting and can either be the incitement of a riot of participating in one as well, but with at least one of the following additional elements:

  • Rioting results in property damage exceeding $1,500
  • Rioting results in serious bodily injury
  • Rioting results in injury to persons or property damage or creates danger of such injury or damage, and the defendant possessed a dangerous weapon of substance at the time.

A conviction of the crime of engaging in felony rioting is punished as a class H felony but inciting such a riot is punished as a class F felony

Failure to Disperse on Command

Failure to disperse on command is a crime when a law enforcement officer commands people to disperse when he or she reasonably believes that a riot or disorderly conduct by three or more people is occurring.

A person is guilty of this crime when they fail to comply with the command to disperse from a law enforcement officer, when the command was given in a manner the person could hear and when the officer is attempting to break up disorderly conduct or a riot.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 2 misdemeanor.

Gang-Related Crimes

It is not uncommon for disorderly conduct to involve gang-related activity. In North Carolina, a “street gang” or “criminal street gang” is defined as any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more people, whether formal or information, that:

  1. Engages in activities that constitute one or more felony offenses, or acts that would be felonies if committed by an adult (in the case of gangs with minors).
  2. Has three or more members engaged in, or who engaged in, “criminal street gang activity”.
  3. May have a common name or common identifying sign or symbol.

As street-gang activity is defined as activity that involves the committing felonies, the punishment for any gang-related crime is also a felony. The severity of conviction will depend on the circumstances, as described below.

Engaging in Street Gang Activity

A person is guilty of engaging in street gang activity if they are employed by or associated with a criminal street gang and do either or both of the following:

  • conduct or participate in a pattern of criminal street gang activity.
  • acquire or maintain any interest in or control of any real or personal property through a pattern of street gang activity.

As this crime requires a pattern of activity, it only applies to people who have two prior incidents of such activity that have the same or similar purposes, results, accomplices, victims, or methods. This crime cannot apply to anybody under the age of 16.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class H felony

Organizer of Street Gang Activity

This crime is similar to the crime of engaging in street gang activity, with the only difference being that it targets organizers, supervisors, or people in management positions in the street gang. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class F felony.

Soliciting Participation in Street Gang Activity

A person is guilty of this crime when they encourage, cause, solicit, or coerce another person to participate in criminal street gang activity.

If the person solicited is 16 years old or older, this crime is punished as a class H felony. If the solicited person was younger than 16, this crime is punished as a class F felony.

Threats Regarding Gang Withdrawal

If a person threatens somebody with injury or property damage to deter them from leaving their gang, or threatens the person as punishment for leaving, they will be guilty of this crime. It is not required that the violence threatened is executed.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class H felony.

Discharging a Firearm in Connection with Street Gang Activity

A person is guilty of this crime if they willfully and wantonly discharge or attempt to discharge a firearm as part of a pattern of criminal street gang activity, from within any building, motor vehicle, or enclosure towards people not within that enclosure.  

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class E felony. If the actions are covered under a different weapon offense statute that carries harsher penalties, prosecution will instead seek charges under those laws.

Defending Against Disorderly Conduct, Gang and Riot Charges

For prosecution to convict you of disorderly conduct, they have the burden of proof to show that you committed all the required elements of the crime. With a skilled lawyer, evidence or lack thereof can be challenged at every sensible angle to remain credible and get the court on your side. While every case is unique and some defense approaches will be more appropriate than others, example defenses include:

  • Accusations were false or mistaken identity due to the defendant looking similar to the perpetrator’s profile.
  • Disruptive conduct was not committed intentionally or willfully, or in a group.
  • The defendant was not involved in the unlawful behavior and was merely near non-associated people who were.

Whatever the defense approach taken is, it should be applicable to the facts of the case. Sometimes it is possible to get all charges dropped, but other times prosecution has enough evidence to convict you of something, so the best approach is to push for a less severe conviction and lighter sentence.

Our lawyers at Tarlton | Polk can go through all the details with you candidly so you can understand why they recommend a certain approach over others so you could make a wise and informed decision. We have successfully represented clients in disorderly conduct cases and know how to carefully structure a defense based on the facts of the case. Most importantly, we are exceptionally skilled at taking these cases to trial, as we know the tactics used by prosecution that often push the defendant into a plea-bargaining position before a trial begins. If you would like to learn more about how we an help, or request a consultation with us, then leave us a message or call us today.

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