A long time ago, the Illinois Supreme Court passed on the intentional generality of the statute when asked to decide if its wording was unconstitutionally overbroad. The court concluded it was not:
"It is true," wrote the court, "that Section 26-1(a) does not attempt to particularize all of the myriad kinds of conduct that may fall within the statute. The legislature deliberately chose to frame the provision in general terms, prompted by the futility of an effort to anticipate and enumerate all of the methods of disrupting public order that fertile minds might devise. Section 26-1(a) is a general provision intended to encompass all of the usual types of 'disorderly conduct' and 'disturbing the peace.' Activity of this sort is so varied and contingent upon surrounding circumstances as to almost defy definition. In addition, the task of defining disorderly conduct is further complicated by the fact that the type of conduct alone is not determinative, but rather culpability is equally dependent upon the surrounding circumstances. These considerations have led the Committee to abandon any attempt to enumerate 'types' of disorderly conduct. Instead, another approach has been taken. As defined by the Code, the gist of the offense is not so much that a certain overt type of behavior was accomplished, as it is that the offender knowingly engaged in some activity in an unreasonable manner which he knew or should have known would tend to emphasis alarm or provoke others. The emphasis is on the unreasonableness of his conduct and its tendency to disturb. S.H.A. chap. 38, par. 26-1. Drafting Committee Comments." People v. Raby, 40 Ill.2d 392, 240 N.E.2d 595, at 598 (Ill.2d, 1968).
Often, in situations where the police are unable to charge any other crime, disorderly conduct becomes the offense they claim. This is because, consistent with the observations of the Raby court, the disorderly conduct statute is worded so generally it can be used to attempt to punish conduct not criminalized by any other law.
A problem with the disorderly conduct statute, however, is that, unlike most other statutes that very specifically describe the conduct amounting to a violation, the charge of disorderly conduct does not. When police charge someone with disorderly conduct, almost always they are required to interpret whether the defendant's conduct was “so unreasonable,” or actually was “alarming or disturbing,” or actually did “provoke a breach of the peace.”
The vagueness of the disorderly conduct statue can be of great benefit to the defense. So, too, can the number of different elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
~Attorney Matt Hoffman, the HoffmanLaw Office
Not every allegation of disorderly conduct constitutes a criminal offense. A person's conduct, for instance, may not be criminal but instead may fall under the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech.
Alternatively, if the case goes to trial, the alleged victim may fail to testify that the defendant's behavior was alarming or disturbing. If the alleged victim did testify that he or she was alarmed or disturbed, the prosecution still might fail to prove that there was, indeed, a breach of the peace, or that the defendant's alleged conduct was 'so unreasonable' as to amount to a crime. It is possible, in fact, that the alleged victim's reaction to the defendant's alleged conduct was the thing that was unreasonable in the case, not anything the defendant did.
Generally, police are not allowed to testify at trial to what the alleged victim told them occurred. The evidentiary rule against hearsay prohibits this. So, if the prosecution wishes to prove its case, most of the time the alleged victim must appear in court and testify. If the alleged victim does testify, he or she will be subject to cross-examination, and may not be able to keep his or her story straight.
The misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct is criminal in nature. If you are charged, found guilty, and then convicted of this offense, you will have a criminal record. In this most basic regard, even a class C misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct is serious. A local ordinance charge of disorderly conduct, too, can have undesirable implications. Illinois courts have remarked that ordinance violations are "quasi-criminal" in nature.
The vagueness of the disorderly conduct statue can be of great benefit to the defense. So, too, can the number of different elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If your disorderly conduct charge attempts to criminalize behavior which, if it actually did occur, nonetheless was lawful, then you should be found not guilty of the offense. Additionally, if any one of the basic elements of the offense alleged cannot be proven, you should be acquitted of the charge. The HoffmanLaw Office has almost two decades of Lake County, Illinois criminal court experience and understands the many issues that can arise in disorderly conduct cases.