Words Alone are Sometimes Not Enough to Convict You of Disorderly Conduct

           In the case of C.N. versus the State of Florida, a juvenile with the initials "C.N." was convicted of the crime of disorderly conduct based upon the following set of facts:


"C.N. was in a crowd of teenagers that spilled into the streets around the Boys and Girls Club in Lakeland after a dance. The Lakeland Police Department received a number of complaints about noise, property damage, and fighting in the area. Officers were dispatched to break up the crowd. One officer testified that the situation was chaotic and that many of the teens were ignoring law enforcement's orders. Several people were arrested and those arrests tended to calm the crowd. He said the police had been taught to look for instigators and to arrest them.


After the officer had been in the area for about an hour, he observed C.N. shouting and using foul language. He feared C.N.'s actions might instigate fights. According to his testimony, the officer instructed the teens in the vicinity to move along, but C.N. failed to do so and rolled her eyes. He told her to leave or he would arrest her. She did not move so the officer attempted to take her into custody for committing the crime of disorderly conduct. C.N. pulled away from his grasp and tightened her arms at her side, all the while continuing to curse. The officer was finally able to put her in a police cruiser and drive away from the crowd."


          C.N. appealed, and Florida's Second District Court of Appeal agreed with her that the prosecutor had failed to prove the charge of disorderly conduct.  The appellate court noted that when disorderly conduct is based upon words alone (as it was in C.N.'s case), a prosecutor must show that the words either:


          1.  Caused a crowd to gather, thereby resulting in safety concerns; or


          2. That the words incited a crowd to engage in an immediate breach of the peace.


          In this case, the evidence presented at trial failed to prove that C.N.'s shouting and foul language incited others to fight, thereby resulting in a breach of the peace.  The evidence failed to prove it because:


          1.  The arresting officer testified that no one was fighting in the area he was patrolling.  Moreover, if he had seen a fight, he would not have concentrated on what C.N. was doing; and


          2.  The crowd spontaneously gathered after a party.  There was no evidence that C.N. prompted the gathering, and the officer testified that he had been at the scene of the disturbance for at least an hour before he even noticed C.N.

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