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.
Ft. Scott v. Arbuckle, 187 P.2d 348 (Kan. 1947).
This case addresses the following issue:
Does disorderly conduct need to be conduct that incites others to riot or violence?
This case explored the issue of whether disorderly conduct was only conduct that incited others to riot or get violent. In exploring this issue, the court held that conduct did not need to incite others to riot or violence to be considered disorderly conduct. Id. at 358.
In this case, the defendant was a 20-year-old woman who was a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Id. at 351-52. The defendant had resided and pursued her work in Fort Scott for approximately a year. Id. at 352. On numerous occasions, the defendant would go to three different apartment buildings to knock on doors and distribute her religious literature. Id. at 352-53. In all of these scenarios, the apartment owners would ask her to leave and she would refuse. Id. Despite being asked to not return on a number of occasions, the defendant kept returning to distribute her literature. Id. In fact, the defendant went as far as entering the apartments without permission. Id. Eventually, many of the apartment residents complained to the apartment owners about the defendant. Id. According to the residents, the defendant was waking them up from their sleep and greatly disturbing them. Id. In the end, the defendant was convicted of three separate counts of disturbing the peace (AKA disorderly conduct). Id. at 351. As a result, the defendant appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Kansas. Id.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Kansas first noted that there was no evidence that any of the residents ever invited the defendant to come to any of their apartments for any purpose. Id. at 360. In light of these facts, the court mentioned that the defendant’s entire course of conduct showed a determination on her part to commit these disturbing acts whether the residents were willing for her to do so or not. Id. at 359. With this in mind, the court stated that had the defendant stopped these people on the street or in a park or nearly any place where she had a right to be, she could have conveyed her religious message freely without any legal repercussions. Id. However, in this situation, the court concluded that an individual must have some place to which he or she may retire and be reasonably free from annoyance or disturbance. Id. In this case, the residents’ apartments were the only places where the residents could get real rest. Id. Additionally, many of the residents asked the apartment owners to keep the defendant from knocking or entering their apartments because she was disturbing them. Id. Therefore, although the defendant’s actions were not inciting others to riot or violence, the court held that that she was disturbing peace (therefore guilty of disorderly conduct). Id. at 358-60.
In conclusion, Kansas law holds that conduct does not need to incite others to riot or violence to be considered disorderly conduct. Id. at 358.