The Law On Disorderly Conduct Seems Pretty Vague; How Do I Know If I Broke It Or Not?
Some parts of the disorderly conduct law are easy to understand others are a little more open to interpretation. For example, both laws have a common theme in that they criminalize the use of “fighting words.” There is not an exhaustive list of what “fighting words” means in the disorderly conduct context. When there is an ambiguous or undefined term in a law we have to look to caselaw to explain the ambiguous or undefined term. Caselaw is created when a judge rules on a specific set of facts, in other words, what the judge’s ruling is in one case defines the law for all cases after that with similar facts. There are hundreds of cases that shed light on the language of the disorderly conduct law in Kansas. Here are a few cases and what points you can draw from them to help better understand the Disorderly Conduct law.
State vs. Beck (9 Kan. App. 2d 459 (1984))
This case answered the question: Can you be guilty of disorderly conduct if the conduct took place in a private place like your own home? The court held that you can commit disorderly conduct in your own home there is no requirement that the conduct occur in public.
State vs. Polson (225 Kan. 821 (1979))
This case answered the question: Can you be guilty of disorderly conduct if only one other person was around to witness the conduct? The court held that a person can be guilty of disorderly conduct if only one person is around to witness the conduct.
Chaplinsky vs. State of New Hampshire (315 U.S. 568 (1942))
This case answered the question; Is criminalizing the use of “fighting words” an unconstitutional infringement on a person’s right to free speech under the first amendment to the United States’ Constitution? The court held, that “freedom of speech” protected by the constitution is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances and there are well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which does not raise any constitutional problem, including the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or fighting words which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.
State vs. Stroble (169 Kan. 167 (1950))
This case answered the question: Does the person to whom the “fighting words” are directed at have to be offended before a person uttering the fighting words can be convicted of disorderly conduct? The court held that the disorderly conduct law does not require that the victim of the speech actually experienced the emotions listed in the offense. Further the court held that when determining whether disorderly conduct has occurred, the courts look to “the intention of the person uttering the language, the person to whom uttered, and all the surrounding facts and circumstances.
In the Matter of J.K.P. (296 P.3d 1140 (2013))
This case answered the question: Is the use of a racial slur automatically Disorderly Conduct? The court held that the yelling a racial slur by [J.K.P.] directed at the people who testified in his case, that he did use language or words—and did engage in noisy conduct—tending to reasonably arouse anger or resentment. Words that are chosen in one context may not be offensive to another person, but used in another context may be extremely offensive to another person. The court does not hold that uttering a racial slur is not a per se violation of the disorderly conduct law.
State vs. Rollins (205 Kan 432 (1970))
This case answers the question: What type of language can constitute fighting words? In this case there is a distinction made between what many people would considered political protected speech and “fighting words.” The court held that evidence that defendant used loud, profane, vulgar and insulting language in presence of United States Marine Corps recruiter and numerous other persons, that his grossly offensive taunts were directed toward the Marines, the then President of the United States, the Flag and State Bureau of Investigation, three of whose agents were present at the time, and that he threatened violence to persons of Marines, all of which caused several persons present to be visibly offended and annoyed, was sufficient to sustain conviction for disturbing the peace.
State vs. Carpenter (231 Kan 235 (1982))
This case answered the question: Is disorderly conduct a lesser included offense to Obstruction of Legal Process? The Court held that disorderly conduct is not a lesser included offense to obstruction of legal process and that they do not contain the same elements.
U.S. v. McKinney (9 Fed. Appx 887 (2001))
This case helped give guidance on the use of curse words in the disorderly conduct context. In this case, a defendant told a military officer to “go f*** himself.” The court held that in that context the language did not rise to the level of “fighting words,” a thus the defendant was not guilty of disorderly conduct.
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