New York makes disorderly conduct a crime. Generally, disorderly conduct laws criminalize behavior that is likely to upset, anger, or annoy others. New York's disorderly conduct statute prohibits several behaviors, such as fighting, disrupting a meeting, or blocking traffic. The state also criminalizes similar behaviors, like disrupting a religious service, loitering, public intoxication, and riots.
Under New York's law, a person can face charges for disorderly conduct by engaging in certain types of behavior with the intent of causing public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk of doing so.
Behavior that falls under disorderly conduct includes:
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 who use obscenities or engage in threatening conduct could be arrested for disorderly conduct.
Disorderly conduct constitutes a violation. Although violations are not technically "crimes" in the sense that they do not go on a person's criminal record, they still can carry criminal penalties. A person guilty of disorderly conduct faces up to 15 days in jail, a $250 fine, and community service hours.
New York also makes it a crime to disrupt a religious or funeral service, loiter, engage in a riot or unlawful assembly, and be intoxicated in public. These acts of disturbing the peace carry penalties ranging from a violation to a class A misdemeanor.
A person commits a class A misdemeanor by disturbing or otherwise making unreasonable noise at or within 300 feet of a religious, funeral, burial, or memorial service. This offense is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
New York law criminalizes loitering. An offender is guilty of loitering when they hang out in a public place without good reason to be there. Loitering under the following circumstances is against the law:
Loitering to unlawfully use or possess a controlled substance constitutes a class B misdemeanor, which carries penalties of up to three months in jail and a $500 fine. Otherwise, loitering is also a violation.
Although public alcohol intoxication is not a crime in New York, police can take a person who is drunk in public into protective custody.
It is a crime, however, for a person to be under the influence of narcotics or drugs in public to the degree they may endanger themselves or other people or property or annoy persons in their vicinity. Such an offense is a violation.
A person commits the crime of riot under New York law by engaging in violent conduct with four or more other people and creating a risk of public alarm. An offender who urges 10 or more people to engage in a riot is guilty of inciting to riot.
Riot and inciting to riot constitute class A misdemeanors and subject a guilty defendant to up to 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Riot is punished more severely if 11 or more people riot and cause injury or substantial property damage. This unlawful conduct is a class E felony, which carries penalties of up to four years' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.
An unlawful assembly is a meeting of five or more people for the purpose of engaging in or preparing for a riot. Unlawful assembly is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months in jail and a $500 fine.
Possible defenses to disorderly conduct and related charges include constitutional challenges, statutory defenses, and failure of proof.
Common constitutional challenges in disorderly conduct cases include First and Second Amendment violations. Disorderly conduct charges based on speech, gestures, or displays could be challenged as a free speech violation if police arrest protestors or others whose actions don't rise to the level of inciting a breach of the peace.
New York law provides for several affirmative defenses in criminal cases, including coercion, justification, and mental illness.
Finally, like all crimes, a common defense strategy is poking holes in the prosecution's case. The judge or jury must find the defendant not guilty if the prosecution doesn't prove every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
Although disorderly conduct and similar crimes carry relatively minor penalties, any criminal conviction can have lasting negative consequences. If you are facing a charge of disorderly conduct or a related offense, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly practices in your area. Numerous defenses may apply to disorderly conduct charges, and a qualified lawyer can evaluate the strength of the prosecution's case against you and help develop any defenses that might apply to your case. A lawyer can often negotiate with the prosecutor for a lesser charge or a reduction in penalties and will know how prosecutors and judges typically handle cases like yours.
(N.Y. Penal Law §§ 30.05, 35.15, 40.00, 55.10, 70.00, 70.15, 80.00, 80.05, 240.00, 240.05, 240.06, 240.08, 240.10, 240.20, 240.21, 240.35, 240.36, 240.40 (2023).)