Poll: Disorderly Conduct and Disturbing the Peace

"The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed. The law embodies the story of a nation's development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics."

                                                           Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

The recent arrest of Barack Obama's friend Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in Cambridge, Massachusetts has stimulated an unprecedented volume of discussion about the meaning of charges like disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct, which are famously hard to define, and since nothing much less than an infinity of legal detail can specify how either charge is interpreted by judges in Massachusetts and elsewhere, it may be worthwhile to approach this issue from the other side of the bench, and investigate when and how the public believes these and similar charges should be defined and applied.

So temporarily leaving aside the question of which specific offense should or should not be charged, and in order to accommodate this diary to sites where it's either inconvenient or impossible to post a poll, and focusing solely on shouting, because of the particular episode which prompted so much discussion, and additionally leaving aside complications about whatever an individual may be shouting, with the special proviso that it isn't threats or "Fire!"...

Readers are invited to list their preferences in comments according to designations like A1 or B1 as listed below, and of course anyone is welcome to add his or her own set of conditions.

Do you believe that a citizen should be subject to arrest for...

A. Shouting at police from his or her own front porch...

A1. Never.

A2. Sometimes.

B. Shouting at neighbors from his or her own front porch...

B1. Never.

B2. Sometimes

C. Shouting at police on the street or in another public space...

C1. Never.

C2. Sometimes

D. Shouting at customers and other passers-by in front of a place of business...

D1. Never.

D2. Sometimes.

E. Shouting at children on the street...

E1. Never.

E2. Sometimes.

F. Shouting at children in front of an elementary school...

F1. Never.

F2. Sometimes.

G. Shouting at women on the street...

G1. Never.

G2. Sometimes.

H. Shouting at men on the street...

H1. Never.

H2. Sometimes.

I. Shouting at first-responders during an emergency...

I1. Sometimes.

I2. Never.

J. Shouting at an audience or performers during a musical or theatrical performance in a public space...

J1. Never.

J2. Sometimes.

K. Shouting at mourners in a public cemetery (for example, Arlington National Cemetery)...

K1. Never.

K2. Sometimes.

L. Shouting outside a hospital...

L1. Sometimes.

L2. Never.

M. Shouting outside a hospice...

M1. Sometimes.

M2. Never.

N. Shouting at officials or the public at a meeting on public property (city councils, state legislatures, and so on)...

N1. Sometimes.

N2. Never.

O. In other public situations which didn't occur to this pollster...

O1. Nowhere and never.

O2. Sometimes somewhere.

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    nope. (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by JamesTX on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 03:14:12 AM EST

    Nope, not without some kind of substantial warning and legitimate order to stop -- not necessarily a court order -- but something with some type of weight and appropriate warning, explaining what damage is being done.

    Shouting isn't "close" to speech. It is speech.

    I am sorry there is a really good reason to arrest them in some situations. I know the conservative revolution is based in the idea that rights can be violated if there is a "really good reason". After 30 years of conservative rule, it seems odd to encounter people who haven't conceded. I know it sounds like I just can't see the balance.  But to me, it is the conservatives who can;t see the balance.

    The fact is, a "really good reason" isn't enough to violate constitutional rights. The amendments are not qualified with "except when there is a really good reason".

    Nowhere and never... (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by kdog on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 08:53:58 AM EST
    all the way down the line...its just shouting, and like James said shouting is speech.

    The only time it should result in an arrest is the private property scenario where the shouter refuses to leave when asked by the property owner.  Public property is exactly that...public and open to shouting.  I'm not saying its cool or a nice thing to do...I don't wanna hear some arsehole hooting and hollering when I'm trying to relax at a public park, but an arrestable offense?  No way.  Livin' free means tons of inconvenience and annoyance...its worth it.

    Thanks for answering my poll. (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jacob Freeze on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 02:56:47 PM EST
    The sample I accumulated was microscopic, although lots of commenters on other sites vented about Gates and Crowley.

    Thank you sir... (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by kdog on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 03:01:45 PM EST
    and keep up the good work with your diaries.

    All (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by jbindc on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 03:40:29 PM EST
    Sometimes - we'd need more information about every scenario you describe.  For example, if you are shouting on your porch (whether or not there is a police officer there), is at the very least disturbing the peace, and if you are told by someone in authority (i.e. the police) to stop, and you continue, you betcha something should happen. At least a fine should be imposed.

    Your rights only extend to the end of your nose - when they start interfering with others' rights (to enjoy quiet in their own yard, to conduct business in an establishment, in front of a hospice, where people are trying to rest, etc.), then you are in the wrong and should be fined or hauled away.

    Thanks for answering all those questions! (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jacob Freeze on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 04:07:35 AM EST
    I posted this poll on five political blogs, and a grand total of three commenters answered all the questions, although it attracted over 100 comments.

    Untrue, IMO (none / 0) (#5)
    by squeaky on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 03:00:42 PM EST
    disorderly conduct, which are famously hard to define

    Abused by the police, but the law is concise, nothing vague about it.