Middleborough, Massachusetts wants to fine people who use profanity in public. They would like to make profanity “disorderly conduct”. This got me thinking about the movie Demolition Man where every time someone cursed they were issued a fine. Is this the direction we’re headed? Okay, okay, this is one town in a liberal state, maybe we’re not there…yet. Disorderly conduct is one of those “lesser” charges that most municipal courts punish with fines. In extreme cases, disorderly conduct can be punishable by days in jail. When I read about laws like these I can see where they could become a serious income generator for a county or region, but I am not sure that I like the idea of punishing someone for a word and using a charge that can result in jail time.
I would be interested to read what other criminal attorneys think about fining people for saying “shit”. Obviously the people of Middleborough think that this is a good idea, but then this is also the state that gave us the Salem Witch Trials.
Should words be fined? Which words? Who gets to decide what is offensive and what is not? Is “piss” offensive? How about “damn”? Will “jerkwad” ever make the list? Furthermore, will a hierarchy be put in place where some curse words receive stiffer fines?
Do you see where I am going with this?
Disorderly conduct is meant for those activities which disturb the peace. Disorderly conduct is a charge that defense attorneys will defend you from so that you don’t receive jail time or have a criminal history. Disorderly conduct must meet—or should me—the requirement of truly disturbing the citizenry or else there is no reason to charge to someone with it.