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):
- Firstly, that the defendant knowingly engaged in an offensive and disorderly act (or acts), or offensive and disorderly language
- Secondly, that the defendant intended to direct his or her offensive or disorderly conduct or language to the alleged victim
- Thirdly, that the alleged victim was aware of the defendant’s conduct
- Lastly, that the defendant’s conduct would be offensive and disorderly to a reasonable person
Moreover, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Defendant committed a disorderly act OR that he or she used disorderly language.
- Conduct targeted the alleged victim.
- The alleged victim was aware of the conduct.
- 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.
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:
- Fighting or violent or tumultuous behavior
- Create a hazardous condition
- Create a physically offensive condition that amounts to an invasion of personal privacy
- Be threatening
Moreover, 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 does not need to prove that the defendant intended a threat be immediately followed by actual violence or physical force.
Is sexually explicit language considered threatening?
Sexually explicit language is inherently threatening when directed at particular individuals.
The terminology true threat has been adopted to help distinguish between words that literally threaten but have an expressive purpose.
The courts addressed the concept of true threat in Commonwealth v. Ramirez (2007). The court ruled that a defendant staring at the complainant at a swimming pool and singing was insufficient to infer that he intended harm.
Is a single “act” sufficient to charge under the statute forbidding annoying and accosting persons?
YES, a single act is sufficient.
Also, 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” became “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.
Moreover, the offensive acts are acts that cause displeasure, anger, or resentment.
Additionally, 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.
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 public OR private.
Does offensive conduct need to have sexual context to be annoying and accosting persons?
YES, offensive conduct does need to have sexual context.
Also remember that offensive acts are those that cause displeasure, anger, or resentment.
The “offensive acts” component of the statute forbidding annoying and accosting behavior requires proof of sexual conduct.
Lastly, “implicit sexual conduct or language” means conduct or language with 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