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What is Vagrancy? - Definition & Laws

Instructor: Jessica Mercado

I completed my BA in Criminal Justice in 2015. Currently working on my MS in Homeland Security Management.

In this lesson we will discuss the meaning of vagrancy and the different punishable actions related to it. The different laws for these acts will be covered, along with an example to further understanding.

Why Should I Have to Work?

You are a middle-aged blue collar worker with a family. You have started to hate the monotony that is associated with your job. One day, on the way to work, you notice a homeless man on the side of the road. He is counting the money he had made that day. You realize he actually has a substantial amount in his hand. You begin to think, ''Why can't I just do that too?'' You quit your job the next day and purposely live as a homeless person and collect money from people passing by.

While pretending to be homeless is not a crime, being purposely unemployed, when you have a family and other obligations, is.

What is Vagrancy?

Vagrancy occurs when an individual purposely chooses to be unemployed. They choose to not only not provide for themselves, but also their family, if they have one. If one commits vagrancy, they can receive criminal charges in court.

However, purposeful unemployment was just the original definition of vagrancy. In modern times, purposeful unemployment is still considered vagrancy, but vagrancy also encompasses a range of disorderly activities, including loitering, being drunk in public, connection with prostitutes, gambling on a professional level, and living off of someone else's welfare.

Are There Vagrant Laws?

Vagrancy laws are not clearly defined. In some cases, if someone commits a vagrant act, they will be charged with the crime they committed. For example, if an individual purposely becomes unemployed, they will be charged with purposeful unemployment. Same with prostitution. The individual will be charged with a crime of prostitution, not a crime of vagrancy.

Disorderly Conduct

Laws for disorderly conduct differ from state to state. This type of action includes causing alarm, annoyance, and anger. The laws for disorderly conduct cover public areas but are related to specific times and areas. If someone is screaming in a neighborhood area in the middle of the night, that would be considered disorderly conduct. However, if someone is screaming in a busy area in the middle of the day, it is not disorderly conduct.

Various types of disorderly conduct include:

  • Fighting- Brawling and physical fighting.
  • Protests- Peaceful protests are allowed, but if it becomes a disturbance or becomes violent, it becomes disorderly conduct.
  • Disturbing an Assembly- Interrupting any type of assembly that is in a public place.
  • Public Misconduct- Public urination, public masturbation, or public sexual acts.
  • Police Encounters- Arguing or not following police orders.

Because the laws differ from state to state, the penalties for disorderly conduct also vary. Typically the penalties will be jail time, fines, or probation. Depending on the situation, the charges can become more severe, such as assault and battery, which would lead to more severe penalties.

Public Intoxication

Public intoxication laws also vary from state to state, but in most states, it is considered a criminal offense. Public intoxication refers to being under the influence of drugs, controlled substances, or alcohol in public places such as parks, streets, stadiums, bars, and restaurants.

It is not required to get a chemical test done to prove intoxication of an individual. All that is needed is a testimony from the arresting officer that the individual was causing a public disturbance while under the influence and had injured others, damaged property, or was a threat to themselves. In fact, in some states, an individual may just appear to be intoxicated and can still be convicted of a public intoxication charge.

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