Disorderly conduct is codified in New York State Penal Law 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 a skilled criminal defense attorney whenever a person is charged.
At Konta Georges & Buza P.C. our legal team uses decades of criminal defense experience to advocate for individuals facing disorderly conduct charges. Partners at our New York City firm are former prosecutors, so they know how the other side uses the disorderly conduct statute to convict defendants. They leverage their perspective to defend you against these charges so that you can move on with your life.
Call 212-710-5166 to schedule a free case evaluation with a former prosecutor.
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:
The reason the statute is confusing for many is that, 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 prosecution needs to prove that the person not only violated the subcategory in question but also did so with the necessary intent to be disorderly. This can be difficult to do.
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 also 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, 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.
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