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Disorderly conduct can be a catch-all crime

You're walking along with a group of friends, laughing and horse-playing as you go down the sidewalk. As you are all adults, the occasional four-letter-word gets bantered about between your group of high-spirited young adults.

Suddenly, two squad cars speed down the street and screech to a halt beside you on the street. The cops start yelling commands and have you at gunpoint. You and your friends are afraid for your lives and do as commanded.

What charges can result?

You may assume that since nobody is carrying weapons unlawfully or holding illegal drugs that the cops will have to let you go. But don't get your hopes up, as they have yet another tool in their arsenal — arresting you for disorderly conduct.

Unbeknownst to you, as you were laughing and loudly calling each other out as you proceeded down the street, a homeowner peeping from behind their blinds was on the phone with the police. They alleged that the playful pushes and blue language exchanged between you and your friends was actually a fight in progress.

What is against the law in Iowa?

Even though those allegations were untrue, the disorderly conduct statute here in Iowa can be used as a catch-all to arrest people. Disorderly Conduct, under Iowa Code Annotated § 723.4, prohibits, among other acts, the following:

  • "Making loud and raucous noise near any residence or public building which causes unreasonable distress to the occupants.
  • Fighting or engaging in violent behavior in a public place or near a lawful assembly of people."

While you were not participating in the latter acts (even though the resident reported that you were), your loud talk, laughter and friendly horseplay could indeed be interpreted as a prohibited act by the police and an overzealous prosecutor.

What happens next?

If today is your lucky day, the West Des Moines police officers could issue you a warning to keep it down and walk respectfully down the street in a group. But that will likely not occur, so you should prepare to be arrested on the misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

Having your day in court

If convicted, not only will you have a misdemeanor conviction on your record — which is problematic enough on its own — you could be fined anywhere from $65 to $625 and even spend as many as 30 days behind bars. That's why it is a good idea to seek legal counsel on how best to defend yourself against the catch-all "crime" of disorderly conduct.

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