Thursday, July 30, 2009

Disorderly Conduct Law

Harvard professer Louis Gates made headlines recently when he was arrested for disorderly conduct outside his home in cambridge, Massachusetts.

The resulting fray went national when a friend of Gates (who happened to live in the White House) appeared on a nationwide TV broadcast to say that Cambridge police "acted stupidly" when they led the professor from his home in handcuffs.

Whether you agree or disagree with the former-lawyer and now US President Barack Obama, most legal experts say that disorderly conduct charges depend largely on a judgement call by the cop at the scene. So what were the Cambridge cops thinking?

Examples of disorderly conduct usually include:

Inciting a riot
Public drunkenness
Loitering in public places
Traffic obstruction
Obscene or abusive language
Making unreasonably loud noise or "disturbing the peace"

Given the array of interpretations of loitering, abusive language, or the most nebulous charge of "disturbing the peace" (actually, Gates was taken in by the arresting officer for “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior”) it's hard to say.

Gates, who is black, was arrested outside his own home after identifying himself as the owner.
Granted, the Harvard professor let off steam by yelling at the officer for questioning him.

"Do you know who I am?" asked Gates, possibly touching off a battle in the ongoing class warfare between the Harvard elite and everybody else who lives in Boston.

Perhaps it was racism. Would a white professor have been arrested under the same circusmstances?

Whatever the reason, expressing First Amendment free speech rights by yelling at a police officer does not constitute disorderly conduct in Massachusetts, nor should it in any other state in the Union.

More about disorderly conduct around the Web: