Our office routinely represents Pinellas County clients who are charged with Disorderly Conduct or Disorderly Intoxication. We have also regularly helped clients charged with battery on a licensed security officer who may be referred to as a “Bouncer.” These incidents often arise out of a bar. This latter offense has been classified as a felony in the state of Florida. It is rare that a police officer would have actually observed such conduct personally. Yet, law enforcement officers are quick to summarily accept the Bouncer’s version of events and rush to judgment in making an arrest. The police often view the accused bar patron as carrying a presumption of complicity simply because he has been consuming alcohol. As a result, our clients are often never given a chance to tell their side of the story. Law enforcement typically takes the approach that “an arrest will promptly quell the disturbance.” Their attitude is that if the person arrested has something to say about what happened in the bar, he can “tell it to the judge.”
Bouncers... a Reputation for Aggression
It is no secret that some “macho” Bouncers are fueled by testosterone and/or adrenaline. They can possess a false sense of authority and take great delight at the opportunity to “rough up” a bar patron. Excessive force by bouncers has been the subject of civil lawsuits in the St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Tampa Bay area. The following news accounts are illustrative of what is perceived as a growing problem: Lawsuit-Bouncer used ‘unnecessary force’ in man’s death and Lawsuits against MacDinton’s bars allege employee-related violence.
Florida Bouncers as Licensed Security Guards
Florida Statute Section 493.6301(5) prohibits acting in the capacity of a security guard without a license issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Thus, if a Bouncer grabs a customer, ostensibly in the course of his employment as a security guard, and he is unlicensed, (or his license has expired) may be guilty of violating Florida’s criminal law. There would therefore be no legal justification for his inappropriate unlicensed touching of a bar patron. Under these circumstances, it could be argued that the customer was legally justified in using self-defense to repel the efforts of the bar employee. As a side note, a person licensed as a security officer is required to wearing a uniform that bears at least one patch or emblem that is visible at all times that clearly identifies the person as a licensed security officer.
Finesse not Fisticuffs
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that savvy night club owners are sending their Bouncers to school for professional hospitality training. International Security Training LLC offers a sixteen hour course designed to teach Bouncers and Doormen how to perform their job with more finesse and less intimidation. See also: Nightclub Security Consultants. The objective is to get these employees to use tactical strategies instead of a “hands on” approach that has the potential to erupt in violence and subsequent civil litigation. California, Hawaii and Oregon require Bouncers to secure this type of training. Florida has no such requirement.
Disorderly Conduct – Not Always Provable
Typical allegations of disorderly conduct include:
- Attempting to engage the security staff at a bar in a fight;
- Cursing at Law Enforcement;
- Drawing a Crowd;
- Ramping up to start a fight;
- Protesting the actions of the police in arresting another person; and
- Refusing to leave the area.
Thus, the sole basis for an arrest is often a belligerent or stubborn attitude. This is clearly insufficient to sustain a conviction for disorderly conduct. After all, the 1st Amendment protects free speech. Where no allegation of public brawling is present, the court must find that the accused is alleged to have disturbed the peace and quiet of (a) other bar patrons, (b) the bar’s bouncers, and/or (c) other nearby members of the public.
Bars are often already inherently crowded with loud voices. it is not uncommon for there to be yelling or cheering in connection with televised sporting events or games played within the drinking establishment. Thus, there is already an ongoing accepted disruption of peace and quiet. In addition, our office often finds that the police failed to gathered witness information from any patron who would later be prepared to testify in court that their “peace and quiet” had been substantially disturbed.
Disruptive Conduct Not Sufficient to Convict
1. Where the accused “flapped his arms around,” “talked loudly,” and “used profanity” in a confrontational manner at a restaurant “causing a scene,” the Florida appeals court found that the conduct was legally insufficient to sustain a disorderly conduct conviction. Blake v. State, 433 So. 2d 611 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983).
2. Where the prosecutor could not demonstrate that the defendant’s language actually incited others nearby to engage in fighting or brawling, the court found that the offense of disorderly intoxication was not proven. The court indicated that, “in order to prove disorderly conduct based on words alone, the State must show that the words either caused a crowd to gather, thereby resulting in safety concerns, or that the words incited a crowd to engage in an immediate breach of the peace.” C.N. v. State, 49 So. 3d 831 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010).
3. The mere fact that "other people came outside or stopped to watch what was going on was insufficient to support a conviction for disorderly conduct. Instead, there must be some evidence that the crowd was actually responding to the accused’s words in some way that threatens to breach the peace." Barry v. State, 934 So. 2d 656, 658 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006).
Prompt Intervention Could Get the Charge Dropped
The facts of your case may cause us to conclude that law enforcement was in error when they made the decision to arrest you for disorderly conduct or disorderly intoxication. Simply because you have been arrested, does not mean that the State Attorney’s Office has to prosecute you. However, time is of the essence. Having us present the prosecutor with mitigating circumstances, or your side of the story, could greatly impact the State’s decision on whether to proceed with a prosecution or to drop the charge. It is important that we implement a well-conceived strategy designed to address the individual facts and circumstances of your case.
Former State Prosecutors Who Can Help
As a team of former state prosecutors with a combined legal experience of over 50 years, we know the value in taking immediate action on your behalf. We limit our law practice to handling only Pinellas County criminal cases. Together, we have defended thousands of people charged with Pinellas county criminal charges. We are lawyers who are aggressive in protecting your best interests.
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