Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Cleveland, 469 P.2d 251 (Kan. 1970).
This case addresses the following issue:
What is disorderly conduct?
This case explored the question of how Kansas courts defined disorderly conduct. In exploring this issue, the court held that disorderly conduct was a disturbance of calmness or order and could be created by any act which harassed individuals in the enjoyment of peace and quiet or excited uneasiness or fear. Id. at 253.
In this case, the defendant approached the victim, a corporal in the Marine Corps recruiting officers for the Marines, at the Student Union Building of Kansas State University. Id. at 252. At the time of the incident, the victim was seated at a table when the defendant engaged the victim in conversation by asking him questions and then interrupting his answers. Id. In the course of the conversation, the defendant called the victim a killer, a mercenary, and a prostitute. Id. Eventually, the defendant’s language toward the victim became so disgusting and shocking that the court could not even write on it in their opinion of the case. Id. Suffice to say, the defendant’s language was directed toward the victim’s mother, the Marines, the flag, and the President of the United States. Id. Ultimately, the interaction drew many students to the area. Id. According to one student, the defendant was screaming directly into the victim’s face and the victim was responding in a soft voice. Id. at 253. Additionally, many of the students in the area were offended. Id. In the end, the defendant was charged and convicted of disturbance of peace (AKA disorderly conduct). Id. at 252. As a result of the conviction, the defendant appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Kansas. Id.
On appeal, the defendant argued that his dialogue with the Marine recruiter did not constitute the offense of disorderly conduct. Id. at 253. In addressing this argument, the court first identified that “disturbance of peace” or “disorderly conduct” was a disturbance of calmness or order and could be created by any act which harassed individuals in the enjoyment of peace and quiet or excited uneasiness or fear. Id. Additionally, the court noted that the public peace to be protected was that invisible sense of security and calmness so necessary to one’s comfort and which every person felt to be under the protection of the law and for which all governments were created. Id. Moreover, the court mentioned that it was not necessary that actual personal violence be employed to be considered disorderly conduct. Id. at 254. Rather, the court found that abusive and insulting language by one towards another, accompanied by threats of violence against such other which put him or her in fear, constituted the offense of disorderly conduct. Id.
With regard to this case, the court concluded that the lewd and indecent language the defendant aimed at the victim (all in a loud voice) disturbed the feeling of security and calmness of the students in the lobby. Id. Therefore, the defendant was guilty of disorderly conduct. Id.