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People v. Gagnon: Court Discusses Disorderly Conduct Statute

May 2, 2017 Criminal Law and Procedure

The Court of Appeals defines disorderly conduct in the case of People v. Gagnon. The phrase “disorderly conduct” is a common one, but it is also a misunderstood phrase as well. “Disorderly conduct” is sort of used as a catch-all to describe a lot of conduct. This is an important case because it really says what must be proven in order for someone to be convicted of disorderly conduct.

Facts of the Case

Defendant William Gagnon was convicted of assault and disorderly conduct in a jury trial. Gagnon was a passenger in a car and was on his way home after a Super Bowl party. He was pulled over and the police wanted to investigate the driver for possibly driving under the influence. Gagnon was intoxicated and was interfering with the police officers who were trying to conduct their investigation. Gagnon was using abusive language, talking about his rights, etc. He then got into a sort of fight with one police officer, although no punches were thrown.

He appealed to the Oakland County Circuit Court. On appeal, he argued the disorderly conduct statute was unconstitutionally vague as applied.

What Does the Disorderly Person Statute Say?

The statute regarding disorderly conduct reads: A person is a disorderly person if the person does any of the following – A person who is intoxicated and in a public place and who is either endangering directly the safety of another person or property or is acting in a manner that causes a public disturbance. MCL 750.167(1)(e).

At trial, Gagnon was convicted of the provision of the statute related to intoxication and causing a public disturbance.

The Court’s Analysis

The Court looked at the public disturbance part of the disorderly person statute. The Court said the statute gave no indication as to what defines a public disturbance. As such, the Court was worried that such a wide-open law could vest the jury with too much discretion in determining what is a public disturbance.

However, the Court said that the whole statute did not need to be struck down. The Court took notice of the endangerment of the safety of another person or property. So in order to avoid striking down the statute, the Court ruled, “We construe the public disturbance provision of the disorderly person statute to require a finding that an accused while intoxicated, directly endangered the safety of another person or property as requisite to a finding of guilty of causing a public disturbance while intoxicated.”

What Does this Legal Language Mean For You?

It is not disorderly conduct under this statute to simply be drunk in public. A person must be drunk, in public, and endangering the safety of another person or property. Being obnoxious or annoying is not necessarily endangering the safety of others. Being loud and shouting is not endangerment. The standard of endangering directly the safety of another person or property is a high bar. The actions must involve some type of physical threat.

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Call Sam Bernstein at 734-883-9584 or e-mail at

Sam Bernstein is an Ypsilanti Criminal Lawyer.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

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Should You Go to Trial on a Disorderly Conduct Charge?

The decision of whether to go to trial rests with you, the client. In any criminal case the defendant, the person charged with the crime, has two options to resolve that case. Your first option is a plea or plea bargain. A plea bargain is where a person admits guilt in exchange for some benefit in return. For example, a person might plead guilty in exchange for a promise by the prosecutor to dismiss the case after successfully completing probation. Or a person might plead guilty to an offense with less consequences and get the originally charged offense dismissed.

Now, you never have to plead guilty or accept a plea bargain. Your second option to resolve a criminal case is through challenging the case. We can file motions, drag things out, hope witnesses don’t cooperate, and ultimately take the case to trial.

Again, the decision for resolution rests with the client. The attorney is responsible for making obtaining the the client’s goals. Sometimes, however there is overlap with the two directions of plea bargains and challenging the case.

For example, perhaps you are interested in going to trial or challenging the case. As a lawyer, we can evaluate the case for potential challenges to see what’s there and what evidence may not be there.

Sometimes your goal might ultimately be for a plea bargain, but the prosecutor does not want to extend a plea bargain resolution. In this instance it may be necessary to challenge the case to persuade the prosecutor offer something. So perhaps we run a motion or two in order to chip away at the prosecutor’s evidence with the end goal of getting that deal.

Every case is different and unique. No decision should be made lightly. We will sit down and discuss the possibilities in detail. These decisions should be based on reasoned thinking and all the facts. We promise to make sure every decision you make will be an informed decision.

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