As criminal defense attorneys in Charleston, South Carolina, we’ve helped people who’ve been charged with disorderly conduct in South Carolina along with an open container (of alcohol) and public intoxication charges. The reason why we mention all three charges is that these offenses seem to go hand-in-hand with drinking in public. Many outdoor social gathers, such as concerts and festivals, serve alcohol to the public. Depending on how much you’ve had to drink, how you behave while you’re drinking, and where you drink, you may find yourself in the unfortunate position of getting arrested for an open container, public intoxication, or disorderly conduct. Though these charges may not seem like a big deal at the time, these charges will stay on your criminal record and could cause you trouble at school, work, and other problems in the future. In this article, we pull together and explain the state law and local ordinances for the City of Charleston.

Disorderly Conduct Laws in South Carolina

State Law – The same South Carolina statute that prohibits gross intoxication in public also prohibits disorderly conduct. Section 16-17-530 provides, in full:

Any person who shall (a) be found on any highway or at any public place or public gathering in a grossly intoxicated condition or otherwise conducting himself in a disorderly or boisterous manner, (b) use obscene or profane language on any highway or at any public place or gathering or in hearing distance of any schoolhouse or church or (c) while under the influence or feigning to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor, without just cause or excuse, discharge any gun, pistol or other firearm while upon or within fifty yards of any public road or highway, except upon his own premises, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than one hundred dollars or be imprisoned for not more than thirty days.

Local Ordinances – Local city and county ordinances can make public intoxication illegal. For example, in the City of Charleston, Section 21-109 states:

A person shall be guilty of disorderly conduct if, with the purpose of causing public danger, alarm, disorder, nuisance, or if his conduct is likely to cause public danger, alarm, disorder or nuisance, he wilfully does any of the following acts in a public place:

  1. Commits an act in a violent and tumultuous manner toward another whereby that other is placed in danger of his life, limb or health;
  2. Commits an act in a violent and tumultuous manner toward another whereby the property of any person is placed in danger of being destroyed or damaged;
  3. Causes, provokes or engages in any fight, brawl or riotous conduct so as to endanger the life, limb, health, or property of another;
  4. Interferes with another’s pursuit of a lawful occupation by acts of violence;
  5. Obstructs, either singly or together with other persons, the flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic and refuses to clear such public way when ordered to do so by the city police or other lawful authority known to be such;
  6. Incites, attempts to incite, or is involved in attempting to incite a riot;
  7. Addresses abusive language or threats to any member of the city police department, any other authorized official of the city who is engaged in the lawful performance of his duties, or any other person when such words have a direct tendency to cause acts of violence. Words merely causing displeasure, annoyance or resentment are not prohibited;
  8. Makes or causes to be made any loud, boisterous and unreasonable noise or disturbance to the annoyance of any other persons nearby, or near to any public highway, road, street, lane, alley, park, square, or common, whereby the public peace is broken or disturbed, or the public annoyed.

The term “public place” means anywhere that persons can freely enter. Stated another way, a public place is anywhere you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy such as schools, public roads, shopping malls and stores, public parks, museums, and other places that are open to the public. Additionally, if you behave in a “disorderly” manner in a private place, but the public can see your behavior (such as shouting out obscenities from your front porch), you can still be charged with disorderly conduct.

In some cases, our clients were arrested for disorderly conduct because they cussed at law enforcement. For starters, we emphasize that it is NEVER a good idea to mouth off to law enforcement. Not only is this disrespectful, but this type of behavior nearly guarantees that you’ll be arrested. Having said that, the constitution protects free speech including foul language. Whether the foul language rises to the level of disorderly conduct depends on whether the language may be considered “fighting words.” For example, telling a police officer “I’m gonna f$%& you up” constitutes fighting words and disorderly conduct. However, telling a law enforcement officer “F$%& YOU” isn’t fighting words. Again, your best course of action is to always be respectful even if you feel like law enforcement is treating you unfairly.

Open Container Laws in South Carolina

State Law – South Carolina’s state law makes it illegal to have an open container in a motor vehicle. You may have an open container (such as a broken seal on a bottle of liquor) in your trunk or luggage compartment. Also, you may transport, in your vehicle, beer or wine in a closed container. Violation of the open container law, Section 61-4-110, is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to 100 dollars or up to 30 days in jail.

Local Ordinances – Local city and county ordinances can make open containers illegal. For example, the City of Charleston has an open container ordinance. Section 3-31 makes it illegal for anyone to “transport or possess on his person or in a motor vehicle any beer, wine, or alcoholic beverage in an open container, nor consume any beer, wine, or alcoholic beverage in or upon the streets, sidewalks, alleys, or public ways” of the City of Charleston. Also, under Section 22-5, it is illegal to have an open container (unless the City has issued special event permit) in a public park, park facility, recreational facility, or playground in the city.

Public Intoxication Laws in South Carolina

State Law – In South Carolina, under state law, it isn’t illegal to be just “intoxicated” in public. The law, Section 16-17-530, prohibits “gross intoxication” in public. Violation of this law is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to 100 dollars or up to 30 days in jail. This charge can’t be expunged from your record. Generally speaking the difference between mere intoxication and gross intoxication is that with “gross” intoxication, the person clearly demonstrates through their behaviors and their actions that they are under the influence. State law also prohibits a person from attending “any meeting, society, assembly or congregation convened for the purpose of religious worship . . . while in a state of intoxication.” For a violation of this law, a person may be fined between $20 to $100 and/or jailed no less than 30 days but no greater than one year.

Local Ordinances – Local city and county ordinances can make public intoxication illegal. For example, in the City of Charleston, Section 21-163 states, “No person shall be intoxicated in a public place, whether such intoxication results from alcohol, drugs or other intoxicants.”

Charleston Lawyers for Open Container, Public Intoxication & Disorderly Conduct Charges

Though the charges of an open container, public intoxication, disorderly conduct are misdemeanors, they’re still crimes that will show up on your criminal record when you apply for a job, rent an apartment, or for any reason that someone conducts a criminal background check on you. Oftentimes, with the help of a lawyer, these charges can be reduced or even dismissed. Before you “go it alone,” contact the criminal lawyers of Futeral & Nelson for a FREE consultation to see if we can help you with these charges.