Disorderly conduct, § 947.01 — sufficiency of the evidence

State v. William G. Bennett, 2012AP1757-CR, District 2, 1/30/13; court of appeals decision (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

Evidence that Bennett sent a lewd and obscene letter to a person was sufficient to support conviction for disorderly conduct because the content of the letter placed it beyond a mere “personal annoyance” to the victim. Purely written speech can constitute disorderly conduct even if that written speech fails to cause an actual disturbance, and certain types of speech—lewd, obscene, profane, and insulting words—by their very nature tend to cause an immediate breach of peace. (¶¶10-11, citing State v. Douglas D.,2001 WI 47, ¶3, 243 Wis. 2d 204, 626 N.W.2d 725, and State v. A.S., 2001 WI 48, ¶15, 243 Wis. 2d 173, 626 N.W.2d 712). Also, conduct that tends to cause a personal or private disturbance may constitute disorderly conduct if there exists the real possibility that this disturbance will spill over and disrupt the peace, order, or safety of the surrounding community. (¶13, citing State v. Schwebke, 2002 WI 55, ¶30, 253 Wis. 2d 1, 644 N.W.2d 666). Applying these standards, the court says:

¶14 We find that the evidence in this case was sufficient to convict Bennett for disorderly conduct. The letter is—without limitation—obscene, disturbing, threatening, and frightening and has the real possibility of causing a disturbance in the community. The letter, which also sexually implicated both the victim’s older friend and young granddaughter, was sent unsolicited to a sixty-year-old married woman. The sexually graphic letter was sent by a known sex offender, whose previous victims included an underage girl and who was serving a lengthy prison sentence for a violent, sexual type of crime. The letter caused a significant disturbance in the victim and her husband, leading them to successfully seek a restraining order against Bennett. A reasonable trier of fact could find beyond a reasonable double that, under the circumstances, Bennett’s mailing of the letter tended to provoke a disturbance and constituted disorderly conduct.