There is great variation among state laws and municipal regulations governing disorderly conduct, also called disturbing the peace and breach of the peace. However, in general, disorderly conduct laws criminalize behavior that is likely to upset, anger, or annoy others. In New Hampshire, this can mean everything from fighting to funeral picketing, and from playing loud music to falsely reporting a bomb threat.
For more general information on the crime of disorderly conduct, see Disorderly Conduct Laws and Penalties.
Under New Hampshire’s laws, a person commits the crime of disorderly conduct by:
- purposely creating a hazardous condition in a public place without good reason
- fighting or engaging in other violent or threatening behavior in public
- in a public place, directing to someone else obscene or offensive words likely to provoke a violent reaction
- blocking traffic on a road or sidewalk
- blocking access to a public building
- doing anything that substantially interferes with a criminal investigation or an official response to an emergency
- refusing to comply with a police officer’s order to leave a public place
- entering an area that is closed due to criminal activity, an emergency, or a disaster
- making loud and unreasonable noises that disturb others
- disrupting business in a public or government facility in a way that disturbs others, or
- disrupting a lawful meeting or gathering.
Generally, in order to be convicted of disorderly conduct, the defendant’s behavior must disturb or bother members of the public. For example, merely calling a police officer a rude name during an arrest might not be sufficient to constitute disorderly conduct, if no one else can hear. However, screaming and kicking at a police officer on a public street, in view of other people, could be considered disorderly conduct. A politician who yells at a meeting, refuses to sit down or leave, and interrupts others could also be convicted of disorderly conduct. Playing music in your car so loudly that it bothers people on the street might also be considered disorderly conduct.
(N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 644:2.)
Defendants in New Hampshire have claimed that the state’s law against disorderly conduct is so broad and vague that it infringes on their federal constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment. Generally, courts have rejected this argument.
In New Hampshire, a person commits the crime of participating in a riot by, along with two or more other people, engaging in violent conduct that alarms or risks alarming the public. It is also a crime to meet with two or more other people in order to engage in violent conduct, or commit a crime against people or property, or refuse a police officer’s order to disperse. Riot is punished more severely if:
- anyone is injured
- there is substantial property damage, or
- the defendant is armed or throws things at a police officer.
For example, a person who throws rocks at a police officer during a political demonstration could be prosecuted for riot.
(N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 644:1.)
False Alarms and Funeral Picketing
Under New Hampshire’s laws, it is also a crime to falsely report a fire, explosion, biological or chemical weapon, or other emergency; or picket a funeral. Almost every state has a law criminalizing funeral picketing. These laws were enacted after extremist and hate groups began protesting at funerals. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 644:2-b, 644:3, 644:3-a, 644:3-b.)
In New Hampshire, public intoxication is not a crime, but that does not mean that it is without consequences. Police can take people in New Hampshire who are intoxicated or incapacitated into protective custody. While the person is not under arrest, he or she can be taken to jail.
For more information, see New Hampshire Public Intoxication Laws.
Disorderly conduct is a violation, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, unless the person has been asked by anyone to stop, in which case the crime is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,000. If a person participates in a riot that causes injury or property damage or is armed or throws anything at an officer, then the crime is a class B felony, punishable by three years and six months to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $4,000. Otherwise, riot is a misdemeanor. Funeral picketing is class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,200. Depending on the circumstances, false alarm may be a misdemeanor or a class B felony.
(N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 644:1, 644:2, 644:2-b, 644:3, 644:3-a, 644:3-b, 651:2.)
Obtaining Legal Assistance
A conviction for disorderly conduct or a similar crime can have serious consequences, even if the charges arise from seemingly trivial misbehavior. Consequences of a criminal conviction can include time in prison or jail, a fine, and a criminal record that can make it difficult to get a job. If you are charged with any crime in New Hampshire, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. An attorney will be able to tell you how your case is likely to fare in court and how to best prepare your defense and protect your rights.