Georgia Criminal Law – Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly conduct is an offense that occurs very frequently in today’s climate, especially during this past summer where protests over racial injustice and police brutality in Atlanta filled the streets. Even with the frequency of this charge, a conviction for disorderly conduct can have grave consequences. For some clients, this is their first interaction with police and their concerns include: jail time, a permanent criminal record, and possibility of trial. All these concerns are very real when facing a disorderly conduct arrest and/or conviction and it is strongly recommended to speak to a criminal defense attorney when one is facing such charges.

The Offense

In Georgia, disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor. Georgia Criminal Code § 16-11-39 states that an individual commits disorderly conduct when they act in a violent or tumultuous manner toward another person, which causes that person to fear for their safety. It can also occur where the individual acts violently toward another’s property, placing that property in danger of being damaged or destroyed. It can even occur where an individual uses provoking language or “fighting words” in which could create a violent encounter with another or by threatening a “breach of the peace.”

“Fighting Words”

An individual can be convicted of disorderly conduct solely based on the utterance of “fighting words.” Fighting words are known as abusive words or phrases that are directed at another and by their very utterance inflict injury or provoke a violent reaction. The focus is primarily on the nature of the words and the circumstances in which they are spoken rather than on the response to those words. This type of language is not protected under our constitutional right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment. “Fights words” can be the sole cause for a conviction of disorderly conduct.

“Breach of the Peace”

“Breach of the peace” generally covers conduct that disturbs the public peace and quiet of the community. An individual who uses “fighting words” or abusive language, without being provoked by another, in which by its very nature could create a public disturbance, can be arrested and/or convicted of disorderly conduct.


Many municipalities have their own disorderly conduct ordinances, one of which is the City of Atlanta. This means that, in those cities, a person may be charged with either a violation of state law or municipal law. The penalties can be different for each, but in general, a first conviction of disorderly conduct carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Disorderly conduct charges are subjective in nature and can be worked out with the prosecution, as well as dismissed at trial.

Contact Us

Being arrested for disorderly conduct can be a stressful event in anyone’s life and it is always recommended to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to know all your possible options when facing this type of charge. We are also experienced in all other misdemeanor offenses and strive to protect our clients’ rights throughout this process. If you or a loved one has been arrested or charged with disorderly conduct, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.