Disorderly Conduct, or “DC” as it is often referred to, is a kind of catch-all charge. It is intentionally non-specific and is used primarily as a bargaining chip for people charged with something more serious, yet who pose no real danger to society.
A DC is a reduced umbrella charge and can include any number of situations, from public urination to a marijuana possession charge.
It is generally satisfied by paying a fine without admitting guilt on the original charge (say a possession charge) and is eligible to be expunged (removed from their record) after five years.
The advantages of having an attorney to negotiate this type of plea can be the difference between simply paying a fine and having a permanent scar on a person’s criminal record.
In the case of a possession charge, getting a reduction to a DC can save a person much more than money. For example, someone convicted of a marijuana possession charge faces an automatic suspension of their driving privileges for a period of six months. This can have a major negative impact, especially if one relies on having a drivers license to earn their living.
It can also negatively impact a person’s ability to be hired and work in various fields– transportation, certain legal fields, etc. A drug conviction can also lead to things like higher auto insurance rates.
A DC allows a person to avoid these kinds of potentially long term damages to their career and reputation.
In a big city like Pittsburgh, many times, depending of course on the circumstances surrounding the original arrest, is often predetermined by the arresting officer and magistrates office where the arrest occurred. In the case of marijuana possession, which the authorities consider a low priority crime in Pittsburgh, it’s to the courts advantage to cut through some red tape and offer the suspect to plea out to the lesser charge of Disorderly Conduct by simply mailing them a citation with a period of ten days to pay off the fine by mail. It essentially becomes a traffic ticket type of citation instead of a criminal charge.
Judges in the city really don’t like wasting valuable court time prosecuting someone for possessing a couple of joints.
But what happens, say, when the original arrest occurs in a smaller community in an outlying county?
It is well known in the legal community that small town police can often be hard on any drug related crimes, regardless of the amount in question. The courts there don’t have the massive caseloads one finds in Pittsburgh’s District Attorney’s office, and they are far less likely to offer any reduction at all, especially if the suspect chooses to face the court without the benefit of an attorney to negotiate for them.
Pittsburgh police operate without a quota system, so arresting officers have much more leeway in granting a DC. They have no quotas to fill, so they don’t need a certain number of convictions in order to satisfy their superiors that they are performing their duty and not hanging around Dunkin Donuts all day.
This is not true in many communities where police are expected to make a certain number of arrests each month. In addition, small town police are often in the “tough on crime” mold, making them far less likely to grant a DC when they feel confident they can get a possession conviction.
An attorney can be the bridge between the court, the arresting officer and the defendant, and a shield against long-term damages resulting from an otherwise minor event.