Man Was too Drunk to Get Married, Arrested for Disorderly Conduct

I have heard many stories of a groom getting a bit too drunk at a reception. I have even heard stories of some men having a few drinks to calm their nerves before the actual wedding. An Australian man was recently told by the pastor that the man was too drunk to get married, and the pastor refused to perform the ceremony. The would-be groom disagreed with the pastor and insisted that the pastor complete the marriage ceremony. After the pastor refused, the man  became a little disorderly, and it sounds as if he resisted arrest when the police were summoned.

Pennsylvania Public Drunkenness and Disorderly Conduct Charges

Had this occurred in Pennsylvania, the man would have been charged with summary offenses of Public Drunkenness and Disorderly Conduct. The man could also have been charged with more severe misdemeanor offenses of Resisting Arrest and Disorderly Conduct. Disorderly Conduct under 18 Pa.C.S.A. §5503 is generally a summary offense, but it can be increased to a third-degree misdemeanor if the person intended to cause substantial harm or serious inconvenience or the person persisted in being disorderly after receiving reasonable warning or requests to stop.

In this particular case, it sounds as if the would-be-groom’s anger was primarily focused on the pastor that refused to conduct the ceremony. When the police arrived, I suspect that they probably told the man that he needed to calm down and leave, and the man probably refused. After the man refused to stop being disorderly and leave, the police probably made the decision to arrest him. Because the man probably refused repeated warnings from the officers to stop being loud and obnoxious, he would likely receive misdemeanor charges of both Disorderly Conduct and Resisting Arrest.

Resisting an Unlawful Arrest

If the man were charged with Resisting Arrest under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5104, he may try to argue that his arrest was unlawful, and a person cannot be convicted of Resisting Arrest if the underlying arrest was illegal. While a person in Pennsylvania cannot be convicted of Resisting Arrest unless the arrest was lawful, that does NOT mean that a person is permitted to actively resist arrest. Pennsylvania law is very clear that a person that aggressively resists an arrest and causes injury to an officer can be charged with assault. In Pennsylvania, an assault on a police  officer normally results in a felony charge of Aggravated Assault. There are cases in which a person was being unlawfully arrested, physically resisted the illegal arrest, caused injury to the officer, and was then convicted of assaulting the officer for defending himself against the unlawful arrest. The justification for this rule is that the law cannot permit a person to assault an officer even if the officer’s actions are illegal.

According to the article, the man did not aggressively resist the officers, so he was not charged with any assault. He may argue that even if he was drunk and disorderly, he was not in “public.” Clearly, a charge of Public Drunkenness under 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5505 requires that a person is present in “public,” and Disorderly Conduct has a similar requirement in that the person must recklessly risk “public” inconvenience. The term “public” is not based on public versus private property. For example, yelling in a Walmart is committed on private property, but it is committed in an area that is open to the general population and is thereby “public.” The primary issue is whether or not the area is generally open to the “public.” In the case of Commonwealth v. Meyer, 431 A.2d 287 (Pa. Super. 1981), the Superior Court held that a V.F.W. bar was not “public” and thereby overturned a conviction because the bar was only open to members, so not open to everyone. The drunk would-be groom could argue that his wedding was only open to his guests and not the public at large, and if the court accepted his argument, then he could not be arrested for Public Drunkenness or Disorderly Conduct as the incident did not occur in “public.” As a domino effect, if the man was not in “public,” then his arrest was unlawful, and his unlawful arrest would mean that he could not be charged with Resisting Arrest. Resisting Arrest charges are very serious offenses because they can result in a sentence that includes jail time, but such charges can be defended, as I showed a few years ago when my client was found not guilty of Resisting Arrest after the police physically engaged the client from behind without first identifying themselves as police officers.