A New Jersey Disorderly Conduct is a catch-all offense that punishes an array of conduct. While most disorderly conduct is not necessarily “criminal,” it still covers conduct that is dangerous, disruptive, or offensive. While disorderly conduct is often punished with a fine, disorderly conduct can still include jail time. Do not treat disorderly conduct charges as a simple traffic violation.
If you, your child, or a loved one was charged with disorderly conduct, talk to one of our attorneys today. Jersey City disorderly conduct Attorneys Sarofiem & Antoun represent clients in Hudson County and other counties throughout New Jersey State.
WHAT IS “DISORDERLY CONDUCT” IN NEW JERSEY?
New Jersey’s disorderly conduct law is a mix of general and specific rules, aimed at keeping the peace. Each person’s idea of what is “peaceful” varies, but the law aims to generally stop boisterous, loud, dangerous, and offenses conduct. To accomplish the intent, N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-2 has three provisions, each of which covers a different type of conduct.
The first provision, N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-2(a)(1), criminalizes “[engaging] in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior.” While hitting someone else might also be punished under the simple assault statute, police or prosecutors may decide that this punishment is more appropriate. For this conduct to be “disorderly,” it must be done “with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof.” This offense does not focus on the fight itself, but rather the disturbance that the fight causes.
The second provision, N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-2(a)(2), is a “catch-all” provision of the statute. Making it a crime to “[create] a hazardous or physically dangerous condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.” Again, this must also be done with the intent to cause an “inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof.” This catch-all provision of the statute covers a wide variety of conduct. Some examples of, “hazardous or physically dangerous condition” might be:
Setting off fireworks indoors; recklessly pushing through a crowd; causing a danger while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs; and other acts that generally disturb the peace.
The third provision, N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-2(b), deals with offensive language. Using “bad language” is not illegal in itself. Yet, “offensive language” raises to disorderly conduct if it is said in public “with the purpose to offend the sensibilities of a hearer or in reckless disregard of the probability of so doing,” and must be “unreasonably loud and offensively coarse or abusive language.” For example, actions such as angrily using profanity while inside a merchant’s place of business.
DISORDERLY CONDUCT PENALTIES IN NEW JERSEY
Disorderly conduct is a “disorderly persons offense” in New Jersey. New Jersey does not have felonies and misdemeanors. Instead, offenses with a potential punishment of more than one year are called “crimes” or “indictable offenses,” and crimes with less than a year of punishment are called “disorderly persons offenses.” This puts the majority of disorderly persons offenses in line with what other states call “misdemeanors.” Disorderly persons offenses have a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and a fine of $1,000.
Disorderly conduct is actually classified as a lesser form of disorderly persons offense, called a “petty disorderly persons offense.” The maximum penalty for a petty disorderly persons offense is 30 days in county jail and a $500 fine. Nearly similar to the fines for severe traffic offenses within New Jersey.
Even though the punishments may be lighter than other crimes, you may still face major repercussions when being charged with disorderly conduct, such as:
A criminal record
A great way to avoid these penalties is to have a criminal defense attorney with you every step of the way. An attorney may be able to help you successfully defend the charges, or have them reduced to local ordinance violation, instead of tainting your record.
DEFENDING DISORDERLY CONDUCT CHARGES
The disorderly conduct statute has vague language to the naked eye. Because of this, having an attorney on your side means having the power to put forth sophisticated legal arguments, challenge the evidence, and possibly arrange a reduced charge.
First, the definitions within N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-2 may require that the alleged conduct took place in “public.” This statute defines “public” as “affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public… has access.” This means that the place or way you performed the conduct must reach out to other people, or must be in a place open to the public. The definition goes on to state that “public” includes:
Highways, Transportation facilities, Schools, Prisons, Apartments, Places of business, or Neighborhoods.
If you were in your own home, a friend’s home, or another private place, disorderly conduct charges may not apply.
Some of the statute may conflict with your right to free speech. The “offensive language” section of the law may infringe on your right to speak your mind in a way that you want. In a classic Supreme Court case, Cohen v. California (1971), the Court upheld the right to use profanity and foul language in protests and other forms of free speech. If your “offensive language” was part of a peaceful protest or other speech, disorderly conduct charges may be unconstitutional.
Lastly, there may be ways to challenge the intent requirements. There are very few crimes that can be committed by accident, and you must have the required mental state to be found guilty. Disorderly conduct requires the intent to cause a disturbance. Defenses of intoxication, may defeat the intent requirement and beat the charges.
JERSEY CITY DISORDERLY CONDUCT ATTORNEYS
The Jersey City criminal defense attorneys represent criminal defendants throughout New Jersey, Hudson County, and Jersey City itself. If you, your child, or a loved one was charged with disorderly conduct, talk to one of our attorneys today. Call (201) 792-3333 today to schedule a free consultation with our experienced defense team.