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Disorderly Conduct

An everyday situation can easily escalate to a point where individuals can quickly and easily lose their composure and find themselves facing a complaint for Disorderly Conduct. If you have been arrested or charged with the criminal complaint of disorderly conduct, you should have skilled legal counsel. While such an offense can seem minor, conviction of a disorderly conduct charge can result in criminal record and even jail time. Utilize the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Ellis Law to minimize the risks you face with a disorderly conduct charge.

NJ Disorderly Conduct Law

Disorderly conduct addresses public misbehavior and conduct which disrupts peaceful society. The disorderly persons statute is rather broad and includes a variety of disruptive, obnoxious, or dangerous conduct. Disorderly conduct in the State of New Jersey falls under 2 categories, one involving physical conduct and the other based on speech. NJ law provides that:

Improper Behavior

If an individual intentionally caused annoyance, alarm, public inconvenience, or recklessly creates a risk thereof, that individual is guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense. Such behavior includes either of the following:

  • Engaging in violent, tumultuous behavior, fighting, or threatening
  • Creating a physically dangerous or hazardous condition through an act serving no legitimate purpose to the actor in question

Offensive Language

If an individual uses loud, offensively coarse, or abusive language in a public place with the purpose of offending anyone listening or reckless regard of the offense of others, that individual is guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense.

A public place refers to an area to which the public or a substantial group of people has access. Public places may include but are not limited to schools, prisons, places of amusement or business, apartment houses, highways, transport facilities, or any neighborhood.

Improper Behavior

To convict an individual of improper behavior in a disorderly conduct charge, the prosecutor must establish that the individual in question caused “public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm” based on an act of threatening, fighting, or engaging in tumultuous or violent behavior. Fighting alone does not qualify as disorderly conduct unless two or more people were involved. Threatening as used to determine disorderly conduct requires physical and verbal threats. Tumultuous behavior as defined by NJ case law includes violent and disorderly movement as well as agitation and uproar of a group of people. A situation where an individual is loud, uncooperative, or argumentative with the police alone will not qualify for a disorderly conduct charge. There needs to be an actual risk of alarm, annoyance, or public inconvenience. Furthermore, actions on behalf of the individual preventing a police officer from performing their duties are irrelevant to determining guilt of a disorderly conduct charge. When reckless behavior is the basis of the improper conduct, the suspect accused must have consciously disregarded a substantial risk of causing public inconvenience or alarm. For the violation to stand, all behavior and conduct must have occurred in public which implies multiple people have been placed in the situation.

These distinctions are important to note when defending your case of a disorderly conduct charge and can often impact the outcome of the case. Interpretation on many of these elements can vary. You need an experienced criminal attorney to argue the facts on your behalf.

Offensive Language

For a speech-based disorderly conduct conviction, the language must be uttered in a public place and likely invite an immediate breach of the peace for anyone hearing the language. If the offensive language is specifically directed at another and falls under the above circumstances, this is considered constitutionally unlawful. There is no prohibition in the disorderly conduct statute against verbal abuse, a common charge when offensive language is involved. Our attorneys will work to have your case downgraded or dismissed.

Penalties for Disorderly Conduct

A petty disorderly persons offense like disorderly conduct can result in jail time of up to 6 months and fines up to and sometimes in excess of $1,000 if convicted. An individual convicted of a disorderly persons charge can also face probation, and will carry the charge on their criminal record.

Municipal Courts have original jurisdiction over petty disorderly persons offenses. However, this charge can also be found in Superior Court when the charge is in conjunction with more serious offenses.

Most local municipalities have their own ordinance prohibiting disorderly conduct. However, state law preempts any local ordinance within the same field of law. If the individuals conduct did not violate the state ordinance for disorderly conduct when a municipality attempts to convict someone of disorderly conduct under their own local ordinance, the conviction may be vacated.

Our criminal defense attorneys are extremely knowledgeable and will know when an issue of preemption needs to be addressed. If you or someone you know has been charged with Disorderly Conduct, our criminal defense attorneys will represent you from our offices in Freehold, Brooklyn, Middletown, East Brunswick, Keyport, Neptune, New York, or Toms River. Call Ellis Law today at 888-355-4752 or contact us online.