Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly Conduct is codified in New York Penal Code Section 240.20. It is a violation punishable by up to 15 days in jail. Disorderly Conduct is a bizarre statute that is not understood by most people, including the police. It is therefore important to contact an experienced New York City criminal defense lawyer whenever a person is charged not only with Disorderly Conduct, but with any misdemeanor crime because the Disorderly Conduct statute is always lurking.

As a law, it practically serves two purposes. First, it's a kind of "catch-all" that gives the police the right to arrest someone whenever a person isn't necessarily committing a crime, but his behavior intentionally causes "public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm" and the police want to get the person off the street. Second, it serves as a plea-bargaining tool in New York courts where prosecutors often enable people accused of various misdemeanors and low-level felonies to plead guilty to Disorderly Conduct instead because it will resolve the case without the person ending up with a criminal record.

The actual statute reads as follows:

"A person is guilty of disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof:

  1. He engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior;
  2. He makes unreasonable noise;
  3. In a public place, he uses abusive or obscene language, or makes an obscene gesture;
  4. Without lawful authority, he disturbs any lawful assembly or meeting of persons;
  5. He obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic;
  6. He congregates with other persons in a public place and refuses to comply with a lawful order of the police to disperse; OR
  7. He creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose."

The reason the statute is confusing for many, including the police, is because for all seven subdivisions, there is a legal requirement that the disorderly person has the intent to cause "public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm" or his conduct has to recklessly create a risk of "...inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm." For example, you are not guilty of subdivision two simply because you make "unreasonable noise." You have to make this noise with the requisite intent to cause alarm, annoyance, or inconvenience to the public. Many people get arrested and charged with Disorderly Conduct because they engage in behavior that matches the specific subcategories. However, this isn't enough. the government needs to prove that the person not only violated the subcategory in question, but did so with the necessary intent to be disorderly. This can be difficult to do.

In addition, there are many defenses to disorderly conduct that implicate various Constitutional rights. As stated above, the police themselves often don't have a clear understanding of what Disorderly Conduct is and what it is not. Because these kinds of arrests often occur in situations where the behavior or speech of the person arrested may be constitutionally protected, the charges may not only be dismissed, but the person may have a legal claim to recover damages for being falsely arrested. This is particularly true in situations where the police arrest people for protesting or for failing to "comply with a lawful order to disperse."

The important thing to remember is that when an officer makes the decision to place you under arrest, you must comply. You will have an avenue to fight the charges later. Often times, people who were initially arrested for Disorderly Conduct may find themselves in situations where they can face additional charges for Resisting Arrest or Obstructing Governmental Administration.

Feel free to contact John Buza for a free consultation if you, or a loved one, is accused of Disorderly Conduct.