A woman was arrested this week after an emotional outburst at the Georgia Department of Driver Services office. Polly Barfield was waiting to see a representative to get some paperwork done and according to the warrant, she finally got so frustrated that she yelled, “If I had a bomb, I'd blow this place up!”
According to the Cobb County police, that since this was a government building, and she allegedly caused quite a scene before yelling that statement, the statement itself placed those that heard it in fear for their safety.
Barfield has been charged with Disorderly Conduct in Georgia.
This may seem like a drastic response from Cobb County, but disorderly conduct actually covers a pretty large range of behaviors. There are many different kinds of behavior that qualify as disorderly conduct, which is why it is of the utmost importance to hire a top-rated Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyer to help sort out the specifics of each case.
What constitutes disorderly conduct in Georgia?
Georgia law defines disorderly conduct by outlining a multitude of acts:
- When a person acts in a violent or tumultuous manner toward another person whereby such person is placed in reasonable fear of the safety of such person's life, limb, or health;
- When a person acts in a violence or tumultuous manner toward another person whereby the property of such person is placed in danger of being damaged or destroyed;
- When a person without provocation, uses to or of another person in such other person's presence, opprobrious or abusive words which by their very utterance tend to incite to an immediate breach of the peace, that is to say, words which as a matter of common knowledge and under ordinary circumstances will, when used to or of another person in such other person's presence, naturally tend to provoke violent resentment, that is, words commonly called “fighting words”; or
- When a person without provocation, uses obscene and vulgar or profane language in the presence of or by telephone to a person under the age of 14 years which threatens an immediate breach of the peace. (O.C.G.A. §16-11-39)
What has to be proven in order to be convicted of disorderly conduct in Georgia?
First, in order to be convicted of disorderly conduct, the state of Georgia (the prosecution) must show that the accused person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This can be done a number of ways. It involves showing that the accused person placed another in reasonable fear for his or her own safety. Or by showing that the accused person placed another in reasonable fear that his or her property will be damaged or destroyed. Also it could be by showing that the accused person used fighting words to incite a breach of the peace. Georgia courts determine fighting words as words that are abusive and naturally tend to provoke a violent resentment. Thomas v. State, 276 Ga. App.
What is the penalty for a conviction of disorderly conduct in Georgia?
Once convicted, the person is deemed guilty of a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor convictions can include up to 12 months in jail or up to $1,000 in fines or both.
Are there defenses to disorderly conduct?
Yes, of course, but it will take a well-practiced and knowledgable Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney to put any Georgia Criminal Defense to good use. There are three defenses specific to disorderly conduct.
First, if there was sufficient provocation of the accused person before he or she engaged in the conduct, then that provocation would negate the elements necessary to be guilty. Next, if the words did not amount to fighting words meaning that the words spoken by the accused person did not incite violent resentment, then this would also negate the necessary elements. Finally, if the alleged victim's fear was unreasonable meaning that most people would not be afraid of the accused person's conduct, then the needed elements have not been met.
With the recent stories of people being charged with terroristic threats, I was glad to see that Ms. Barfield was not "over-charged." The reality is that she was disorderly. However, she had no real ability to carry out her threat. An over-zealous prosecutor or police officer may have tried to charge her with terroristic threats.
In our February 25th article about criminalizing speech in the age of school shooting, we discussed how speech was being criminalized when there was no real ability to carry out the threat. The police, very-often, "over-charge" people who act out or say something stupid. It is our opinion that unless there is an actual possibility of carrying out a threat, at most a person should be charged with disorderly conduct, as in the case discussed in this article.
If you or a loved one has been charged with Disorderly Conduct in Georgia, contact us today.