ANNOYING AND ACCOSTING PERSONS
This blog post will answer the following legal questions on the criminal offense of annoying and accosting persons:
How does the Commonwealth prove a defendant guilty of annoying or accosting a person?
In order to prove a defendant guilty of annoying or accosting a person, the Commonwealth must prove the following four elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt (ALL):
To prove the first element of the offense, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt EITHER that the defendant committed a disorderly act (or acts) OR that he or she used disorderly language.
To prove the second element of the offense, the Commonwealth must prove that the conduct was directed at and received by the alleged victim.
To prove the third element of the offense, the Commonwealth must prove that the alleged victim was aware of the defendant’s offensive and disorderly conduct.
To prove the fourth element of the offense, the Commonwealth must prove that the disorderly act or acts or language was or were sexual in nature and would be offensive to a reasonable person in the complainant’s position. An act or language is offensive when it is repugnant or offensive to contemporary standards of decency and causes real displeasure, anger, or resentment. An act or language is offensive when it is contrary to the prevailing sense of what is decent or moral.
To prove the fourth elementof the offense, the Commonwealth must also prove that the offensive and disorderly act or acts or language would be offensive to a reasonable person.
Note that the Commonwealth must prove that the conduct in question was BOTH offensive and disorderly.
Similar but separate offenses include (ALL):
What does it mean for an act or acts to be “disorderly”?
To be disorderly, the defendant’s act or acts or language must involve one of the following four things without a legitimate reason (ALL):
Note that a threat can take many forms. It can be a comment or an act that would make a reasonable person fearful, not just uncomfortable. The Commonwealth is not required to prove that the defendant intended a threat to be immediately followed by actual violence or physical force.
Is sexually explicit language considered threatening?
Sexually explicit language can be inherently threatening when it is directed at particular individuals in settings in which such communications are inappropriate and likely to cause severe distress.
The terminology true threat has been adopted to help distinguish between words that literally threaten but have an expressive purpose such as political hyperbole and also words that are intended to place the target of the threat in fear, whether the threat is veiled or explicit.
The courts addressed the concept of true threat in Commonwealth v. Ramirez (2007), in which they ruled that a defendant staring at the complainant at a swimming pool and singing that he “fell in love with a little girl” was insufficient to infer that he intended her to fear that harm would befall her.
Is a single “act” sufficient to charge under the statute forbidding annoying and accosting persons?
YES, a single act is sufficient.
The original statute forbidding annoying and accosting penalized “persons with an offensive and disorderly act or language accost[ing] or annoy[ing] persons of the opposite sex.”
In 1983, the word “act” was changed to “acts”. The change had no impact on the statute’s meaning. Proof of a single disorderly and offensive act is sufficient to continue prosecuting.
Does the conduct need to involve the opposite sex to convict a defendant of annoying and accosting persons?
NO, there is no longer a requirement that the victim be of the opposite sex as the defendant.
Does the invasion of privacy need to be “extreme” to convict a defendant of annoying and accosting persons?
NO, the invasion of privacy does not necessarily need to be “extreme”.
Does an act need to be BOTH physically offensive and threatening to convict a defendant of annoying and accosting persons?
NO, if an act was physically offensive, it does NOT also need to be threatening, and vice versa.
Commonwealth v. Chou (2001) ruled that the distribution of derogatory flyers concerning a victim were not physically offense but were indeed threatening.
Legally speaking, offensive acts are acts that cause displeasure, anger, or resentment, especially repugnant to the normal sense of what is decent or moral.
Conduct that is physical is when it is of or relating to the body. Physical contact with a victim’s person is NOT necessary to make a person’s actions physically offensive.
Commonwealth v. Cahill (2004) ruled that physically offensive conduct existed where the defendant removed a screen from a bedroom window of a ground floor apartment wherein a woman was sleeping and stood there smoking cigarettes.
Does the offense need to be committed in public to legally be considered annoying and accosting persons?
NO, the offense of annoying and accosting persons can be committed in public OR in private.
Does offensive conduct need to have sexual context to be annoying and accosting persons?
YES, offensive conduct does need to have sexual context to be considered annoying and accosting persons.
Remember that offensive acts are those that cause displeasure, anger, or resentment, especially repugnant to the prevailing sense of what is decent or moral.
The “offensive acts” component of the statute forbidding annoying and accosting behavior requires proof of sexual conduct or language, either explicit or implicit.
Note that “implicit sexual conduct or language” means conduct or language which a reasonable person would construe as having sexual connotations.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH ANNOYING AND ACCOSTING PERSONS, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.
Source: Instruction 6.600