(Updated 1/4/24: See our related posts at What is the Difference Between Felony and Misdemeanor Disorderly Conduct? and Disorderly Conduct: Calling in a False Alarm).

You were just curious, so you called a government office and started asking questions. You wanted to know how they handle threats involving guns or bombs. Something in the nature of your questions spooked the office manager, and now you have been charged with disorderly conduct.

Were your questions enough to get you convicted? What about freedom of speech? What can you do now?

In Illinois, depending on what you said and how you said it, you could be convicted of disorderly conduct. (See 720 ILCS 5/26-1(a)(1)). To do so, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you “knowingly” committed an act in an unreasonable manner that you knew or should have known would tend to alarm or disturb another so as to cause a breach of the peace. The court looks at the unreasonableness of your conduct and its tendency to disturb. You need not have made overt threats or used abusive language.

In People v. Swenson, the defendant asked a school what would happen if he showed up on campus with a gun, whether the school had bulletproof windows, and how long it would take for police to arrive. Amidst other bizarre comments, the defendant asked the school principal if she was prepared to have the “sacrificial blood of lambs” on her hands. The court held that under the circumstances, defendant clearly exceeded the bounds of reasonableness and that he should have known his conduct would be disturbing. The court also held that the First Amendment did not protect the manner in which defendant expressed himself.

If you have been charged with disorderly conduct or a similar crime, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. Can the state prove all the elements of your offense beyond a reasonable doubt? A determination of disorderly conduct is very fact specific. An experienced attorney, who knows the courthouse, may be able to present your facts to a judge in their most favorable light.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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