Contemporary Law Chapter 15 CRIMES AGAINST PUBLIC ORDER AND MORALITY Crimes against public order and morality
are intended to insure that individuals walking on sidewalks, traveling on the streets, or enjoying the public parks and facilities are free from harassment, fear, threat, and alarm. This category of crime includes a large number of seemingly unrelated offenses that threaten the public peace, quiet, and tranquility. The challenge presented by these offenses is to balance public order and morals with the right of individuals to exercise their civil liberties. A prime example of a crime against public order is individual disorderly conduct. This broadly defined offense involves acts that create public inconvenience and annoyance by directly threatening individuals’ sense of physical safety. Disorderly conduct entails offenses ranging from intentionally blocking the sidewalk and acting in an abusive and threatening manner to discharging a firearm in public. Group disorderly conduct (riot) entails tumultuous or violent conduct by three or more persons. The second category of crimes against public order and morals covered in this chapter includes offenses against the public order that threaten the order and stability of a neighborhood. We focus on two so-called quality-of-life crimes. At common law, vagrancy was defined as moving through the community with no visible means of support. Loitering at common law was defined as idly standing on the corner or sidewalk in a manner that causes people to feel a sense of threat or alarm for their safety. These broad vagrancy and loitering statutes historically have been employed to detain and keep “undesirables” off the streets. The U.S. Supreme Court in recent years has consistently found these laws void for vagueness and unconstitutional. The same constitutional arguments are being used today to challenge ordinances directed against the homeless and gangs. The last section of the chapter on crimes against public order and morals examines the overreach of the criminal law, or so-called victimless crimes. These are offenses against morality. The individuals who voluntarily engage in victimless crimes typically do not view their involvement as harmful to themselves or to others. We initially center our discussion of victimless crimes on prostitution and soliciting for prostitution. The next section on victimless crimes examines whether the prohibition on obscenity should be extended to violent video games that are thought to harm children or whether these games are protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. DISORDERLY CONDUCT
The common law punished a breach of the peace. This was defined as an act that disturbs or tends to disturb the tranquility of the citizenry. Blackstone notes that breaches of the peace included both acts that actually disrupted the social order, such as fighting in public, and what he terms constructive breaches of the peace or conduct that is reasonably likely to provoke or to excite others to disrupt social order. Blackstone cites as examples of constructive breaches of the peace both the circulation of material causing a person to be subjected to public ridicule or contempt and the issuing of a challenge to another person to fight. The common law crime of breach of the peace constituted the foundation for American state statutes punishing disorderly conduct. An example of a statutory definition of the misdemeanor of disorderly conduct is the Wisconsin law that punishes anyone who “in a public or private place, engages in violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which the conduct tends to cause or provoke a disturbance.”2 Other statutes specify the conduct constituting disorderly conduct. The Illinois statute defines disorderly conduct as any act knowingly committed in an unreasonable manner so as to “alarm or disturb another and to provoke a breach of the...
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