Disorderly Conduct in New York

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As in many states, disorderly conduct is a crime in New York. New York’s disorderly conduct statute prohibits a variety of behaviors, such as fighting, disrupting a meeting, or blocking traffic. New York also has laws against false alarms, rioting, funeral picketing, and loitering. Generally, in order to be convicted of disorderly conduct or a similar crime, a person must intentionally inconvenience, annoy, or upset the public, or create a risk of inconveniencing, annoying, or upsetting others. (N.Y. Pen. Law § 240.20.)

For more information, see Disorderly Conduct Laws and Penalties.

Disorderly Conduct

Under New York’s law, a person commits the crime of disorderly conduct by

  • fighting or engaging in other violent or threatening conduct
  • making an unreasonable amount of noise
  • using obscene or abusive language or gestures in public
  • disturbing a lawful assembly or meeting
  • blocking traffic (vehicular or pedestrian)
  • congregating in public and refusing a police officer’s order to disperse, or
  • creating an offensive or hazardous condition without good reason.

For example, getting into a loud argument with a friend on the streets of an otherwise quiet residential neighborhood in the early morning hours could be considered disorderly conduct. Peaceful picketing does not constitute disorderly conduct, but picketers that use obscenities, or engage in threatening conduct could be arrested for disorderly conduct.

(N.Y. Pen. Law § 240.20.)

Disrupting a Funeral or Religious Service

It is also a crime in New York to disturb or otherwise make unreasonable noise at or within 300 feet of a religious service, funeral, burial, or memorial service. Many states have enacted similar laws to prohibit extremist groups (like the Westboro Baptist Church) from picketing funerals. (N.Y. Pen. Law § 240.21.)

Free Speech

Generally, defendants' claims that New York’s disorderly conduct law is so broad and vague that it infringes on the federal constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment have been unsuccessful.

Loitering

New York also has laws against loitering (hanging out in a public place without good reason to be there). It is a crime in New York to loiter

  • in order to gamble
  • in order to buy or use drugs
  • in order to engage in prostitution or promote the prostitution of others
  • while masked
  • at or near a school, or
  • at or near a transportation facility (such as a subway station) in order to engage business or entertain people.

So, under New York’s laws, a street musician that plays a guitar in a bus station could be charged with loitering. Previously, New York had a law against loitering for the purpose of begging, but that law was found unconstitutional and struck down. (N.Y. Pen. Law §§ 240.35, 240.36, 240.37.)

For more information on prostitution crimes in New York, see Prostitution Laws in New York.

Public Intoxication

In New York, although public alcohol intoxication is not a crime, police can take a person who is drunk in public into protective custody. It is a crime to be under the influence of drugs in public and behave badly. (N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law § 22.09; Pen. Law §§ 240.00, 240.40.)

For more information, see New York Public Intoxication Laws.

Riot and Unlawful Assembly

A person commits the crime of riot under New York's laws by engaging in violent conduct with four or more other people, creating a risk of public alarm. An unlawful assembly is a meeting of five or more people for the purpose of engaging in or preparing for a riot. For example, a rabble rouser that encourages others to take to the street and break windows and sets out with a group of six people could be found guilty of unlawful assembly, even if no windows are broken. Riot is punished more severely if eleven or more people riot and cause injury or substantial property damage. Urging ten or more people to engage in a riot is also a crime (called inciting to riot).

(N.Y. Pen. Law §§ 240.05, 240.06, 240.08, 240.10.)

False Alarms and Fake Bombs

It is also a crime to falsely report an emergency, crime, catastrophe, or child abuse. Falsely reporting a fire, explosion, or bomb is a more serious crime. False alarm is also punished more severely if

  • the defendant has previously been convicted of false alarm
  • an emergency worker is injured or killed
  • any person is injured or killed by an emergency vehicle, or
  • the defendant falsely reports a fire, explosion, or bomb at a school, stadium, arena, transit station, or other public space when people are likely to be present.

It is also a crime to place a fake bomb or hazardous substance anywhere where the object is likely to cause alarm or inconvenience. (N.Y. Pen. Law §§ 240.50, 240.55, 240.60, 240.61, 240.62, 240.63.)

Punishment

Disorderly conduct is a violation. Violations do not result in criminal records, but they are punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a fine.

Disrupting a religious service or funeral is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. Loitering for the purpose of using or buying drugs, engaging in, or promoting prostitution is a class A or B misdemeanor. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to three months in jail and up to $500 in fines. Otherwise, loitering is also a violation.

Riot and inciting to riot are class A misdemeanors. Unlawful assembly is a class B misdemeanor. If property damage or injury results from a riot involving eleven or more people, riot is a class E felony, punishable by one to four years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

False alarm is a class A misdemeanor. Serious cases of false alarm and placing a fake bomb in a sports stadium or arena, mass transportation facility, enclosed shopping mall, on school grounds, in a public building, or in any other public place are class D felonies, punishable by one to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Falsely reporting a fire, explosion, or bomb is also a class E felony, as is placing a fake bomb or hazardous substance somewhere other than a public place.

(N.Y. Pen. Law §§ 240.05, 240.06, 240.08, 240.10, 240.20, 240.21, 240.35, 240.36, 240.37, 240.50, 240.55, 240.60, 240.61, 240.62, 240.63.)

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you are charged with any crime, including disorderly conduct, you should talk a New York criminal defense attorney. Even for a minor offense, talking to an attorney is the best way to ensure that your case has the most desirable outcome. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court and help you successfully navigate the criminal justice system and protect your rights.

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