What is “unreasonable noise” as defined by 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 5503(a)(2)?

Disorderly Conduct, 18 Pa. C.S.A § 5503, is an offense that is cited frequently in Pennsylvania because it’s definition is so broad. Pennsylvania statutes define disorderly conduct as conduct that has “intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof.”  Disorderly conduct includes fighting, threatening, making unreasonable noise, and using obscene language and gestures. I wanted to provide more specific information for individuals that have been charged with § 5503(a)(2) for causing “unreasonable noise.”

What is unreasonable noise?

Unreasonable noise is to be given its “plain, ordinary meaning” and is defined as “noise which is not fitting or proper in respect to the conventional standards of organized society or a legally constituted community.” In order for the Commonwealth to convict someone of violating 18 Pa. C.S.A. 5503(a)(2), the Commonwealth must prove that the Defendant’s actions intentionally or recklessly caused or created a risk of causing a public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm.

“The offense of disorderly conduct is not intended as a catchall for every act which annoys or disturbs people and it is not to be used as a dragnet for all the irritations which breed in the ferment of a community. It has a specific purpose; it has a definite object, it is intended to preserve the public peace.” Commonwealth v. Hock, 728 A.2d 943 (Pa. 1999).

Disorderly conduct for unreasonable noise is a specific intent offense.  The Commonwealth must prove that the Defendant intended to cause or created the risk of causing a public inconvenience.  The court will look into factors such as the volume of the noise, whether the the public peace was upset, and the time of day the noise took place.

In Commonwealth v. Maerz, 2005 Pa. Super. 267 (Pa. Super. 2005), the Court decided the issue of whether shouting profanities at a neighbor is considered disorderly conduct. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania vacated the sentence entered by the Court of Common Pleas convicting Defendant of disorderly conduct. In entering the ruling, the Court stated that the Defendant’s language was irrelevant since the prohibition against unreasonable noise is directed at the volume of the speech and not its content.

Furthermore, the Court found that there was no evidence that the Defendant was unreasonably noisy. The Court reasoned that just because the neighbor was annoyed and irritated by the Defendant’s loud outburst alone does not create an inference that the Defendant intended to cause a public inconvenience. Moreover, the court reasoned that the level of noise was not inconsistent with the neighborhood’s tolerance levels and that the public peace was not upset. Based on this reasoning, the Superior Court vacated the Defendant’s conviction.

Charged With Disorderly Conduct?

If you have been charged with disorderly conduct, feel free to call me to discuss your case. I represent clients located in Northampton and Lehigh County and would be happy to discuss your case with you if you are located in the Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton area. Call me at (610) 417-6345.

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