In the state of South Carolina, a person is guilty of public disorderly conduct (otherwise known as “PDC”) if any of the following are true:
- She is on a highway or at a public place or public gathering in a “grossly intoxicated condition” or “otherwise” conducting herself in a “disorderly” or “boisterous” manner;
- She uses profane or obscene language; or
- She is under the influence or feigning to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor, and without just cause or excuse, discharges any gun, pistol or other firearm while upon or within fifty yards of any public road or highway, except upon her own premises.
A person can be charged with PDC for using obscene language if she is in a public place OR if she happens to use profane language within “hearing distance” of any schoolhouse or church.
Unfortunately, this codification is relatively broad in scope, and as a result, a great many people end up charged with PDC for behavior that does not reasonably appear to be criminal. Because of its broadness in scope, public disorderly conduct is often used as a catch-all for law enforcement when they respond to a scene or encounter an individual who hasn’t otherwise committed a crime but appears to be behaving in a way that makes more difficult law enforcement’s job.
The good news is that the breadth of the PDC statute affords criminal defense attorneys multiple avenues of attack when attempting to defeat an allegation of criminal wrong doing. Maybe the crime didn’t occur in a public place. Maybe the person wouldn’t reasonably be considered intoxicated. Maybe the person’s conduct wouldn’t reasonably be considered disorderly. There are many avenues available when defending a charge of public disorderly conduct, the trick is identifying the different available defenses and aggressively pursuing them in a way that makes more likely a positive outcome or adjudication.
What is a Public Place?
Generally, a “public place” is a place that is open to the public. It includes any place that a member of the public can enter freely. It is completely irrelevant whether the place in question is publicly or privately owned. For instance, your local grocery store, bar, mall, or park would be examples of “public places” under this code section.
Even more interestingly, one may be considered to be in a “public place” if she is engaging in conduct that is “disorderly” or “boisterous” in a private place that is otherwise visible to the public.
So, if a defendant behaves in a disorderly manner in a shopping mall, then he is likely criminally culpable of PDC. However, if a defendant behaves in a disorderly manner within his own home and it is not reasonable to assume that people in public could perceive that conduct, then he would not be criminally responsible for public disorderly conduct, because the conduct did not occur in public. This would not, of course, excuse other criminal conduct, but it would constitute a defense to a charge of public disorderly conduct and may help resolve other charges stemming from the original PDC.
What Consists of “Disorderly” Conduct in South Carolina?
It sounds cliché, but jurors often know it when they see it. Disorderly conduct is generally a fact to be argued at trial and relates to the type of conduct and whether that conduct is likely to disturb the peace. For instance, standing on a table and screaming mean things at strangers be would most likely offensive to the majority of the population, while dancing poorly in public probably wouldn’t offend most folks (depending on how bad the dancing is).
Merely being intoxicated does not, in and of itself, constitute disorderly conduct. So remember that it is not leaving the bar in an intoxicated state that gets a person arrested for public disorderly conduct, it is running off at the mouth to strangers or, even worse, law enforcement officers that causes folks to get charged with PDC.
Penalties for a Public Disorderly Conduct Conviction
If a person is convicted of disorderly conduct, then he will be sentenced, in the court’s discretion, to a fine of up to $100.00 or a period of incarceration not to exceed thirty (30) days.
Of more long term significance, this conviction is a misdemeanor that will, if reported to SLED and, therefore, the NCIC, ultimately show up on the convicted person’s criminal record and be visible to prospective employers, landlords, or any other individual that may have reason to conduct a background search.
What About Free Speech?
PDC does have First Amendment implications inasmuch as merely communicating information that people find offensive is not violative of the law as long as the speech is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. By way of example, a citizen may choose to express a political position on a t-shirt in a way that offends folks of different viewpoints. This type of conflict is important in a free society as there needs to be robust discussion and debate for the marketplace of ideas to operate effectively. So, it is important to remember that there may be Constitutional protection available to those charged with public disorderly conduct if the boisterous or disorderly conduct constituted activities arguably protected by the First Amendment.
Should I Hire a Greenville Criminal Defense Lawyer?
If you’re reading this page and asking yourself this question, then you should call the criminal defense attorneys at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. There’s an old adage amongst lawyers, that the lawyer who chooses to represent himself has a fool for a client. Trust the lawyers at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. to evaluate your cases, identify your defenses, and provide you with sound advice. They’ll be candid with you and give you the information you need to make the best decision for you.
David Price is a Personal Injury, Civil Litigation, Collections, and Criminal Defense Attorney who practices in Greenville, SC. He graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law, and has been practicing law for 12 years. David Price believes in helping those who have been injured. Learn more about his experience by clicking here.