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. Beck, 682 P.2d 137 (Kan. Ct. App. 1984).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can disorderly conduct occur in private?
This case explored the issue of whether disorderly conduct could occur in private. In exploring this issue, the court held that disorderly conduct was an offense which could be committed in either a public or private place. Id. at 139.
In this case, two police officers were dispatched to the defendant’s house at 2:00 a.m. Id. at 138. Upon arriving at the house, the two officers observed the defendant on the second-floor landing of the residence. Id. At that time, the defendant said to one of the officers, “What the f*** are you doing here?” Id. The officers then advised the defendant that they were called to a disturbance. Id. The defendant then said, “Come up here and I’ll f*** you.” Id. Throughout this encounter, the officers could smell a moderate amount of alcohol upon the defendant. Id. Meanwhile, a woman told officers that she was having a domestic problem with the defendant. Id. Upon hearing the woman, the defendant began to become abusive with the woman and told the officers to leave the premises. Id. One of the officers then told the defendant that they could stay as long as the woman wanted them to. Id. Following this statement, the defendant said, “f*** you” towards the officer. Id. Finally, the officers placed the defendant under arrest for the use of fighting words. Id. After a brief struggle and placing handcuffs on the defendant, the defendant spit in one of the officer’s face. Id. Additionally, after being taken to the police vehicle, the defendant kicked and broke the rear taillight on the vehicle. Id. At trial, the court found that the defendant’s comments were fighting words and convicted him of disorderly conduct. Id. at 138-39. The defendant appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals of Kansas. Id. at 139.
On appeal, the defendant argued that disorderly conduct could only occur in public; therefore, he could not be found guilty because all of his comments took place in his private residence. Id. In making this argument, the defendant relied on a few outdated statues and asserted that Kansas lawmakers intended that disorderly conduct only occur in public. Id. In addressing the defendant’s argument, the court noted that there was no requirement in the disorderly conduct statute that the general public be disturbed or that there be a danger of public disturbance. Id. Additionally, the court stated that a person could be disturbed or become alarmed and annoyed to the point of violence while in the private residence of another. Id. Furthermore, the court held that the lawmakers who created the disorderly conduct statute clearly intended it to include conduct occurring within a private residence. Id.
In conclusion, the Court of Appeals of Kansas did not find the defendant’s argument credible and held that disorderly conduct was an offense which may be committed in either a public or private place. Id.