New Jersey Criminal Lawyer
Disorderly Conduct Charge or Arrest
People can lose their composure for reasons entirely outside their control, for example, an encounter with an unreasonable individual, and the situation can escalate to the point that someone is arrested, charged or otherwise finds themself with a criminal complaint for Disorderly Conduct. This offense may appear to some as relatively minor, however, a conviction for Disorderly Conduct under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2 results in criminal record and exposure to up to six (6) months in jail. An experienced attorney is pivotal to minimize the risks associated with this charge and our criminal defense law firm, the Law Offices of John F. Marshall, welcomes the opportunity to assist you. Our NJ law office defends individuals arrested and/or charged with Disorderly Conduct statewide including Monmouth County, Union County, Middlesex County, Somerset County, Ocean County, Essex County, Hudson County, Bergen County and Mercer County. Please do not hesitate to contact our office is you have any questions or require legal assistance as initial consultations are always without charge. One of our lawyers would be happy to speak to you and formulate a plan for defending you.
The New Jersey Disorderly Conduct Law
The law provides as follows:
2C:33-2. Disorderly Conduct.
a. Improper Behavior. A person is guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense, if with the purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof he
(1) Engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or
(2) Creates a hazardous or physically dangerous condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.
b. Offensive Language. A person is guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense if, in a public place, and with the purpose to offend the sensibilities of a hearer or in reckless disregard of the probability of so doing, he addresses unreasonably loud and offensively course or abusive language, given the circumstances of the person present and the setting of the utterance, to any person present.
"Public" means affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which public or a substantial group has access; among the places included are highways, transport facilities, schools, prisons, apartment houses, places of business or amusement, or any neighborhood.
Explanation of NJ Disorderly Conduct Law
There are two varieties of disorderly conduct under the law - one based on physical conduct and the other based on speech. The statute is intended to address misbehavior and conduct in public places wherein the make a nuisance of themselves or otherwise disrupt peaceful society. Legislative Committee Commentary (1971). The law is drafted broadly to include a wide range of obnoxious, disruptive, and/or dangerous conduct. The following is a summary of the law concerning each subsection of the statute but it should be noted that this statute is one of the more overcharged offenses in the experience of the criminal lawyers at our New Jersey law firm.
a. Improper Conduct: In order to convict an individual of disorderly conduct based on improper behavior under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2(a), the prosecutor must establish, beyond reasonable doubt, that the accused had the purpose to cause "public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm" based on their fighting, threatening or engaging in violent or tumultuous conduct. Fighting cannot be the basis for disorderly conduct unless it involves participation of two or more people. The term "threatening" as used in the law contemplates been said to contemplate or require both verbal and physical threats. NJ case law defines "tumultuous behavior" as disorderly and violent movement coupled with agitation and uproar of a crowd or group of people. See State v. Stampone, 341 N.J. Super. 247, 255 (App. Div. 2001). The law does not therefore support a conviction where an individual is uncooperative or loud and argumentative with police officers; there must also be a risk of public convenience, annoyance, or alarm. Ibid. It is also irrelevant to this charge that the conduct of the accused prevented a police officer from performing his duties. Ibid. This distinction is a primary issue in many cases and where one of our lawyers can often make the difference. Where the conduct complained of is based on recklessness under the statute, the suspect must have consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm result from his or her conduct. In other words, the accused must have undertaken one of the specific misbehaviors outlines in the statute knowing that it has a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm. It must also be reiterated the prohibition is against actions in "public" thereby necessitating that some plurality of persons be placed in jeopardized for a violation to exist. The elements of the offense under this section of the law are: (1) the accused possessed the purpose to cause or recklessly created a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm; and (2a) the accused engaged in fighting, threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or (2b) the accused created a hazardous or physically dangerous condition by engaging in an act which serves no legitimate purpose. Conduct forming the basis for a charge under this subsection can be subject to varying interpretation so it is important that an experienced criminal lawyer, like those at our firm, is at your side to argue the facts on your behalf. An attorney from our office will make sure that you are provided with every benefit under the law so as to legitimize your conduct, i.e., demonstrate that the conduct was not improper under the law.
b. Offensive Language: For speech to be the basis for disorderly conduct and the conviction to be constitutional, the language must have been uttered in a public place and likely to invite the hearer to an immediate breach of the peace. When the language is directed specifically at another individual and is of such a nature and uttered under such circumstances as is likely to result in an immediate breach of the peace, it may be constitutionally proscribed. State v. Brown, 62 N.J. 588, 591 (1973). The misconduct must be in "public" where a substantial group has access. It is not uncommon for police to charge an individual for offensive language complaining that the suspect was verbally abusive, however, no where is such a prohibition set forth in the statute. Our attorneys are always careful to make this point where an officer is unwilling to dismiss and/or downgrade a disorderly conduct charge. You should strongly consider hiring a lawyer if you are defending this charge and those at our NJ criminal defense firm are always happy to speak to those in need of legal assistance.
Municipal Court and/or Superior Court Charge
Since Municipal Courts have original jurisdiction over petty disorderly persons offenses and disorderly conduct falls within this grade of offense, you typically encounter disorderly conduct in Municipal Court. However, the lawyers at our firm also find this charge in Superior Court but typically in conjunction with an arrest and charges involving more serious offenses. It is important to keep in mind that most municipalities have a township, city or municipal ordinance which prohibits disorderly conduct. The ordinance is essentially the municipalities local rule for this type of conduct but it must be remembered that N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2 will preempt an ordinance which occupies the same field of law. In other words, if a municipality attempts to convict an individual for disorderly conduct under a local ordinance but the individual's conduct did not violate the state standard, there is a good chance that the conviction shall be vacated based on preemption. A knowledgeable attorney will know when an issue of preemption comes into play.
Penalties for Disorderly Conduct
The jail exposure is six (6) months on a petty disorderly persons offense such as disorderly conduct. The fines and assessments can vary but it would not be usually for the total monetary commitment to be in excess of $1,000 in the event of conviction. Additionally, a conviction of the offense can give rise to probation and results in a criminal record. It is always a wise move for an individual to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer where he is exposed to jail and a possible criminal record.
If you have been charged with Disorderly Conduct under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2 or as an ordinance violation, a criminal attorney at our law office is prepared to assist you. We would be happy to represent you anywhere in NJ and Monmouth County, Union County, Ocean County, Middlesex County, Mercer County, Essex County, Somerset County, Hudson County and Bergen County. Please do not hesitate to contact our law office to speak to a lawyer as initial consultations a free of charge. One of our lawyers is available to assist you immediately.The Law Offices of John F. Marshall with locations in Monmouth County at 157 Broad Street, Red Bank, NJ 07702 and Union County at 216 North Avenue, Cranford, NJ 07016, represents individuals on Disorderly Conduct Offenses throughout New Jersey, its counties, and municipalities.