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Tennessee Disorderly Conduct Laws

Tennessee has passed laws to keep the public safe by making it illegal to commit certain crimes that disturb the peace of others. These laws are commonly calls disorderly conduct, breaching the peace, and public intoxication laws. The general idea behind these laws is that a state has an interest in its residents and visitors being free of unreasonably offensive behavior or behavior that could harm themselves or others.

The main Tennessee public safety violations, including disorderly conduct, are outlined below.

Code Sections

Tennessee Code Title 39: Criminal Offenses, Chapter 17: Offenses Against Public Health, Safety, and Welfare, Part 3: Disorderly Conduct and Riots

What is Prohibited?

Tennessee prohibits the following public health and safety laws related to disorderly conduct and public intoxication:

  • Disorderly Conduct - Fighting or threatening behavior, refusing to obey an official order to disperse during an emergency, creating a hazardous condition without legitimate purpose, or being unreasonably noisy as to prevent others from lawful activities, in public with intent to annoy the people
  • Disorderly Conduct at Funerals - Interfering with a funeral, burial, viewing, service, or procession by picking, protesting, or making other offensive displays or gestures within 500 feet of the funeral related activity
  • Public Intoxication - Appearing in public under the influence of any intoxicating substance so the person, other persons, or property may be endangered or people in the area are unreasonably annoyed
  • Obstructing a Highway or Other Passageway - Obstructing a highway, sidewalk, elevator, hallway, etc. where the public has access or disobeying a reasonable request to move by a cop, firefighter, or other authority figure who's trying to prevent obstruction of a highway or passageway or maintain public safety while dispersing from an emergency
  • Civil Rights Intimidation - Injuring or threatening another person with the intent to intimidate them from the free exercise of any right or privilege in Tennessee, or for exercising any right or privilege; also damaging any real or personal property to intimidate another from enjoying any right or privilege secured by U.S. or Tennessee laws, or for exercising any right or privilege. It's illegal to wear a mask or disguise with the intent of violating this law.

The same criminal offenses chapter contains laws prohibiting rioting, stalking, harassment, and desecrating venerated objects or corpses.

Penalty

The penalties for the disorderly conduct laws listed above by felony and misdemeanor class are:

  • Class D Felony - 2-12 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $5,000 (civil rights intimidation)
  • Class A Misdemeanor - not more than 11 months and 29 days in jail and a $2,500 fine (wearing a mask/disguise with the intent to commit civil rights intimidation)
  • Class B Misdemeanor - not more than 6 months in jail and a $500 fine (disorderly conduct at a funeral)
  • Class C Misdemeanor - not more than 30 days in jail and a $50 fine (disorderly conduct, public intoxication, obstructing a highway/passageway)

Defenses

The appropriate defense or defenses depend on the circumstances of the alleged offense. If you're charged with public intoxication, but in fact where having a medical emergency, you have a defense that no controlled substance was involved. If you're charged with disorderly conduct at a funeral, but stayed over 550 feet away the entire time, you have that distance as a defense.

One obstructing a highway defense specified in the law is for when the defendant was soliciting charity for tax-exempt organizations and used reasonable precautions to prevent the disruption of traffic or injury to people or property. The defendant must have received prior written approval for the solicitation activity.

Note: State and federal laws change frequently -- contact a local attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the laws you're researching.

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