In Virginia, individuals often get charged with disorderly conduct for vague behavior that may or may not fit the legal definition of disorderly conduct. This is especially prevalent in cases dealing with juvenile defendants. Therefore, if you or someone you know is charged with disorderly conduct, it’s important to understand exactly what must be proven for guilt. 

How does the Virginia Code define disorderly conduct?

Disorderly conduct can be found at Section 18.2-415 of the Virginia Code. While the statute is dense, stated more simply, you are generally guilty of disorderly conduct if:[1]

You intend to cause or create a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm; and you meet one of the additional elements: 1) engage in conduct that has a direct tendency to cause violence by the person(s) you direct your conduct at; or 2) are intoxicated in public and it disrupts a funeral, memorial service, or political meeting; or 3) are intoxicated and it disrupts the operation of a school or activity sponsored by a school. 

What does it mean to engage in “conduct that has a direct tendency to cause violence?”

As you can tell from the Virginia Code, disorderly conduct is a confusing and vague statute. Therefore, often times, law enforcement revert to charging an individual with it when the person is involved in a physical altercation or causes some uncomfortable scene in public. 

That said, the Courts do limit the meaning of disorderly conduct. In doing so, the courts hone in on what it means to engage in conduct that has a direct tendency to cause violence. 

In Keys v. City of Va. Beach, 16 va. app. 198 (1993), the court found a defendant did engage in conduct having a direct tendency to cause violence when he screamed at an officer, “you aint going to do nothing…get a real policeman.” The defendant also “put her hands down…balled her fists…and straighten up…” In response, the officer believed the defendant was “going to fight.”

In Ford v. City of Newport News, 23 va. app. 137 (1996), however, the court found that the defendant did not engage in conducting tending to cause violence. There, law enforcement approached the defendant who was pushing his bike along a street. In response, the defendant threw his arms up in the air and yelled loudly enough for neighbors to hear, “I’m tired of this s***, the cops in Hampton do the same thing.” In it’s finding the court reasoned that, “while the defendant’s remarks lacked civility…” his act of throwing his arms in the air could not reasonable way cause or incite the officers to violence.

While neither Keys nor Ford provide a "scientific" definition of disorderly conduct, they do prove guide posts that will be useful in determining where cases may fall if they go to trial.

What if the alleged conduct should have been another Virginia criminal charge?

While the Virginia disorderly conduct charge is pretty vague, it does have pretty useful language when someone engages in activity that should have caused another charge:

However, the conduct prohibited under subdivision A, B or C of this section shall not be deemed to include the utterance or display of any words or to include conduct otherwise made punishable under this title.

What this means is there’s a defense to be argued against disorderly conduct where the accused should have been charged with another crime.

Case in point is Battle v. Commonwealth, 50 Va. App. (2007). There, the defendant’s disorderly conduct charge with reversed where he was kicked out of a club because he was blocking the entrance. When he was told to leave because of being aggressive with a friend, he refused, cursed so loudly that spit came out of his mouth, and continued to refuse to leave when warned that he’d be arrested for disorderly. Because there were other charges (such as assault, cursing, or obstruction of passage) that the defendant, could have been charged with, he was not guilty of disorderly.


As you can see, disorderly conduct is a vague and complex charge. Therefore, it’s important that you speak to an attorney before simply pleading guilty to it. It’s a criminal misdemeanor and should be taken seriously. If you’ve been charged with disorderly conduct, give us BenGlassLaw a call for a free consultation.

Are you, or someone you love, facing juvenile charges? You can download our free guide to Virginia's juvenile criminal justice system. Visit this link to download From Study Hall to Detention, A Family Guide to Virginia's Juvenile Criminal Justice System, written by James S. Abrenio Esq. This guide is a good starting point for any parent or guardian with a teenager in trouble.

[1] This is an attempt to simplify the complex language of the statute.  It’s an attempt to make it more understandable.  Of course, you cannot rely on this in court.  And you should have defense counsel during any criminal matter.  

James S. Abrenio
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Focusing on criminal, traffic defense and personal injury cases
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