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District of Columbia Disorderly Conduct Laws

Any thriving city requires some semblance of order to function properly. Acts that impede this order often are considered crimes. Under District of Columbia law, a person who disturbs the peace can be arrested for an assortment of charges. A charge for disorderly conduct in D.C. can result from a handful of public acts that the city considers disruptive. This article provides a general summary of the disorderly conduct laws in Washington, D.C.

Violations of District of Columbia Disorderly Conduct Laws

When walking around the nation's Capital, it is important to remember that the city's streets are rarely traveled alone. Disorderly conduct laws reassure people that they can move around the city unharmed and unthreatened by any other person also roaming out in public. From offensive gestures to unreasonably loud noises, the District of Columbia's disorderly conduct laws forbid several kinds of rowdy public acts. An arrest for this crime also can lead to fines and jail time.

Rioting or Inciting to Riot

Washington, D.C.'s statute prohibiting rioting or inciting to riot is closely related to its disorderly conduct law. However, rioting -- which involves five or more people engaged in violent behavior -- is charged as a felony and can result in a long prison sentence if there are serious injuries and/or property damage of more than $5,000.

The following table outlines the specifics of the District of Columbia's disorderly conduct laws.

Code Sections

District of Columbia Code § 22-1321: Disorderly Conduct

District of Columbia Code § 22-1322: Rioting or Inciting to Riot

What's Prohibited?

District of Columbia disorderly conduct laws make it unlawful for a person to:

  • Cause another person to be in reasonable fear that they are likely to be harmed or their property is likely to be taken.
  • Incite or provoke violence where there is a likelihood that such violence will occur.
  • Direct offensive language or gestures at another person in a manner likely to provoke that person.
  • Engage in loud, threatening, or abusive language, or disruptive conduct, with the intent of impeding or disrupting the orderly conduct of a lawful public gathering or a group of people engaged in any religious service.
  • Make an unreasonably loud noise between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. that is likely to annoy or disturb other persons in their residences.
  • Urinate or defecate in public, other than in a urinal or toilet.
  • Stealthily look into a window or other opening of a dwelling in which an occupant would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Under D.C. disorderly conduct laws, a person who violates this crime is guilty of a misdemeanor, which is punished by a fine up to $500, up to 90 days in jail, or both.

Rioting or Inciting to Riot

Statutory Definition of a Riot: A public disturbance involving an assemblage of five or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct or the threat thereof creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons.

Penalty: Up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Enhanced Penalty: If in the course and as a result of a riot a person suffers serious bodily harm or there is property damage in excess of $5,000, every person who willfully incited or urged others to engage in the riot shall be punished by imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $25,000 (up to $250,000 if the rioting resulted in a death).


Visit FindLaw's sections on disorderly conduct and public safety violations for more articles and information on this topic.

Arrested for Disorderly Conduct in D.C.? Get Legal Help  

If you have been arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, riotiing, or inciting to riot, penalties can range from a few hundred dollars in fines to as much as 10 years in prison. It takes a skilled lawyer to defend against such charges, especially if your level of involvement and intent are open to interpretation. Find a qualified Washington, D.C. criminal defense attorney for more help.

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