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Disorderly Conduct Laws in Washington

Under Washington state law, disorderly conduct is considered a "breach of the peace" and can arise out of many different situations and circumstances. In more general terms, you could be arrested and charged with this offense by causing a public disturbance or using "abusive language."

In Washington, disorderly conduct is considered a public disturbance or a breach of the public peace. It can be applied when it’s believed that you:

  • Disrupted a lawful meeting or assembly,
  • Used abusive language that created the risk of assault,
  • Intentionally obstructed traffic without authority,
  • Engaged in fighting or making unreasonable noise within 500 feet of a funeral, wake, burial, or memorial service.

Abusive Language

What is abusive language? This involves words used to offend people within hearing distance in a reckless disregard for them. Typically, offensive language is loud, coarse, or otherwise offensive.

Let's say you are at a Seahawks game and start heckling San Francisco 49ers fans and a fight breaks out. It's possible you could be in violation of the law.

The following table highlights the main provisions of Washington's disorderly conduct laws. See Disturbing the Peace, Public Intoxication, and Public Safety Violations for more information.

Code Sections

Disorderly Conduct: RCW 9A.84.030

What is Prohibited

1) Using abusive language and intentionally creates a risk of assault;

2) Intentionally disrupting any lawful assembly or meeting of persons without lawful authority;

3) Intentionally obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic without lawful authority

Funeral Picketing

Intentionally engaging in a fight or in tumultuous conduct or making unreasonable noise, within five hundred feet of

1) The location where a funeral or burial is being performed;

2) A funeral home during the viewing of a deceased person;

3) A funeral procession, if the person described in this subsection (1)(d) knows that the funeral procession is taking place;

or

4) A building in which a funeral or memorial service is being conducted; and knowing that the activity adversely affects the funeral, burial, viewing, funeral procession, or memorial service.

What is a public place?

Public place" includes streets and alleys of incorporated cities and towns; state or county or township highways or roads; buildings and grounds used for school purposes; public dance halls and grounds adjacent thereto; those parts of establishments where beer may be sold under this title, soft drink establishments, public buildings, public meeting halls, lobbies, halls and dining rooms of hotels, restaurants, theaters, stores, garages and filling stations which are open to and are generally used by the public and to which the public is permitted to have unrestricted access; railroad trains, stages, and other public conveyances of all kinds and character, and the depots and waiting rooms used in conjunction therewith which are open to unrestricted use and access by the public; publicly owned bathing beaches, parks, and/or playgrounds; and all other places of like or similar nature to which the general public has unrestricted right of access, and which are generally used by the public.

Penalty

Misdemeanor, maximum penalty of up to 90 days in jail and $1,000 in fines.

Because Washington's criminal laws can sometimes get complicated, particularly surrounding the right to free speech under the First Amendment, it may also be a good idea to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have questions about your specific situation.

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