Disorderly Conduct In New York – All You Need To Know

by ECL Writer
Is Disorderly Conduct A Crime In New York?

Disorderly conduct is a common criminal charge in New York, and it refers to a broad range of behaviors that disturb public peace and order. The state’s disorderly conduct law is designed to maintain public safety and prevent disruptive or offensive conduct that may cause alarm, annoyance, or inconvenience to others. However, the broad scope of the law has led to confusion and controversy over what conduct constitutes disorderly conduct and how it should be punished. In this article, Eastcoastlaws.com will explore the concept of disorderly conduct in New York, including its legal definition, common examples, and potential penalties. We will also examine some of the challenges and criticisms of disorderly conduct law, as well as some of the strategies defendants can use to defend against a disorderly conduct charge.

Disorderly Conduct Under New York Laws

Disorderly behavior is illegal in New York, as it is in many other states. The disorderly conduct Act in New York forbids a number of actions, including fighting, upsetting a meeting, and obstructing transportation. Laws against hoaxes, riots, funeral picketing, and loitering are also in place in New York. In general, a person must intentionally annoy, irritate, or upset the public in order to be found guilty of disorderly conduct or a related crime, or pose a threat to do so. (N.Y. Pen. Law § 240.20.)

The following actions constitute the crime of disorderly conduct in New York:

  • 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.

(N.Y. Pen. Law § 240.20.)

Examples Of Disorderly Conduct In New York

Disorderly conduct is a crime in New York State that encompasses a wide range of behaviors that are considered disruptive, dangerous, or offensive to others. Some common examples of disorderly conduct in New York include:

  • Fighting or engaging in violent behavior in public: This can include physical altercations or verbal threats that are likely to lead to violence. If the behavior causes others to feel threatened or unsafe, it can be considered disorderly conduct.
  • Making loud noises or using abusive language: If someone is being loud and disruptive in a public space, such as yelling, screaming, or using offensive language, they can be charged with disorderly conduct. This can also apply to using a loudspeaker or other amplifying device to make noise in public.
  • Intoxication or drug use in public: If someone is publicly intoxicated or using drugs, they can be charged with disorderly conduct. This can include being excessively drunk, using drugs in public, or being under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the point of being disruptive.
  • Refusing to obey a lawful order: If a police officer or other authority figure gives someone a lawful order, and they refuse to comply, they can be charged with disorderly conduct. This can include refusing to leave a public space, ignoring a police officer’s instructions, or otherwise disobeying the law.
  • Public nudity or lewd behavior: If someone exposes themselves in public, engages in sexual activity in public, or otherwise behaves in a sexually explicit or offensive way in public, they can be charged with disorderly conduct.
  • Obstructing pedestrian or vehicle traffic: If someone blocks a sidewalk or street, or otherwise impedes the flow of pedestrian or vehicle traffic in a public space, they can be charged with disorderly conduct.

Is Disorderly Conduct A Misdemeanor In NY?

disorderly conduct in New York State is classified as a violation and not a misdemeanor. As a violation, it is considered a less serious offense than a misdemeanor or felony, and a conviction for disorderly conduct does not result in a criminal record.

A violation is still a legal offense, but it is typically punishable by a fine, community service, or a short-term sentence in a local jail. In New York State, disorderly conduct is defined as “engag[ing] in fighting or in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior” or “mak[ing] unreasonable noise or other loud and unreasonable noise.” Disorderly conduct can also include using abusive or obscene language or gestures, disrupting a lawful assembly or procession, or obstructing vehicular or pedestrian traffic.

While a disorderly conduct violation may not result in a criminal record, it can still have consequences, such as fines, community service, or a brief jail sentence. Additionally, a disorderly conduct conviction can appear on a person’s record as a violation, which may be visible in background checks and could potentially impact employment or other opportunities.

It’s important to note that the specifics of disorderly conduct violations can vary by state, and in some states, it may be classified as a misdemeanor or even a felony offense. It’s always a good idea to consult with a legal professional to understand the potential consequences and options for defense in the event of a disorderly conduct charge.

Disrupting A Funeral Or Religious Service

Disrupting or otherwise making undue noise at or within 300 feet of a religious event, funeral, burial, or memorial service is illegal in New York. Similar laws have been passed by many states to forbid radical organizations (such as the Westboro Baptist Church) from picketing funerals. (N.Y. Pen. Law § 240.21.)


Laws against loitering are also present in New York (hanging out in a public place without good reason to be there). Lingering is illegal in New York:

  • 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 businesses or entertain people.

So a street performer who plays the guitar in a bus stop could be accused of loitering under New York law. A law prohibiting loitering in New York for the purpose of begging previously existed, but it was overturned when it was determined to be unconstitutional.

Free Speech

Generally speaking, the defendants’ assertions that New York’s disorderly conduct rule is too broad and ambiguous to violate the federal constitution’s First Amendment right to free speech have been rejected.

Public Intoxication

Although public alcohol intoxication is not a felony in New York, police have the authority to place someone who is intoxicated in public into protective custody. Being high and acting inappropriately in public is against the law. (N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law § 22.09; Pen. Law § § 240.00, 240.40.)

Riot And Unlawful Assembly

According to New York law, engaging in violent behavior with four or more other individuals while raising the possibility of public alarm constitutes the crime of riot. A gathering of five or more people for the purpose of participating in or preparing for a riot is considered an unlawful assembly. For instance, even if no windows are smashed, a rabble-rouser who leads a group of six people in breaking windows on the street may be found guilty of unlawful assembly. Rioting is punished more harshly if there are at least eleven participants and there is injury or significant property damage. It is also illegal to encourage ten or more persons to take part in a riot (called inciting to riot). (N.Y. Pen. Law § § 240.05, 240.06, 240.08, 240.10.)

False Alarms And Fake Bombs

Falsely reporting an emergency, crime, disaster, or child abuse is also illegal. A more serious offense is falsely reporting a fire, explosion, or bomb. A false alarm is also subject to harsher punishment 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.)

What Is The Punishment For Disorderly Conduct In NY?

Disorderly behavior is against the law. Violations are punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a fine but do not result in criminal records.

It is a class A misdemeanor to interfere with a religious service or funeral; the penalty is up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. A class A or B misdemeanor is committed when someone loiters with the intent to engage in prostitution, use or purchase drugs, or both. Class B misdemeanors carry a maximum sentence of three months in prison and a maximum fine of $500. In addition, loitering is prohibited.

Rioting is a class A misdemeanor, as is instigating rioting. A class B misdemeanor is an unlawful assembly. Riot is a class E felony that carries a one- to a four-year prison sentence as well as a fine of up to $5,000 if it leads to property damage or personal injury. Riots involving eleven or more individuals are illegal.

An A-class misdemeanor is a false alarm. A class D felony, punishable by one to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000, is committed when a serious false alarm occurs and a fake bomb is planted in a sports stadium or arena, a mass transit facility, an enclosed shopping mall, on school property, in a public building, or in any other public location. A class E felony is also committed when a fire, explosion, or bomb is falsely reported, as well as when a phony bomb or dangerous substance is placed somewhere other than a public area.

Defense To Disorderly Conduct In NY

If you have been charged with disorderly conduct in New York, there are several potential defenses that you may be able to use to fight the charge. The following are some common defenses to disorderly conduct in NY:

  • Lack of intent: One of the key elements of a disorderly conduct charge is that the person accused of the offense intended to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm. If you can demonstrate that you did not have the intent to cause such disruption, you may be able to have the charge dismissed.
  • Free speech protections: Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, individuals have the right to express their opinions and ideas freely, even if their speech is controversial or unpopular. If you can argue that your behavior constituted protected speech, you may be able to avoid a disorderly conduct conviction.
  • Unlawful arrest: If law enforcement officers did not have probable cause to arrest you for disorderly conduct, you may be able to challenge the legality of your arrest and have any evidence obtained during the arrest suppressed.
  • Self-defense: If you engaged in behavior that may have been deemed disorderly conduct, but you were acting in self-defense or defense of others, you may be able to argue that your behavior was justified.
  • Lack of evidence: Finally, if the prosecution cannot provide sufficient evidence to support the disorderly conduct charge against you, your attorney may be able to argue that the case should be dismissed.

How Long Does Disorderly Conduct Stay On Record In NY?

NY Disorderly Conduct under Penal Law 240.20 stays on your record for one year from the time that you take the plea. Then, it should be automatically sealed from your criminal record. However, law enforcement agencies when checking your background would still be able to see your disorderly conduct conviction and the underlying arrest charges. All other entities conducting your background checks, besides law enforcement would not be able to see your conviction for New York Penal Law 240.20, after it comes off your criminal record.

Theoretically, after that year has passed, any NY disorderly conduct offenses under Penal Code 240.20 should automatically disappear from your criminal record. It isn’t always the case, though. It is preferable to be safe than sorry and examine your criminal past yourself first if you are applying for a new job that requires a background check, adopting a kid, or experiencing any other life milestone that will require someone to review your criminal record. You can do it without a lawyer, it’s simple to accomplish, and it’s reasonably priced.

How To Confirm That NY Disorderly Conduct Is Off My Record?

You must request a criminal background check, sometimes known as asking for your “rap sheet,” in order to find out whether your conviction for NY disorderly conduct, PL 240.20 has been expunged. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is one source where you can obtain your criminal history. You can request an FBI criminal background check online or through a U.S. Post Office for a cost of $18.

The FBI will need your fingerprints in order to run them through their database and give you any results that pertain to your fingerprints. This includes any professional or firearms license you have applied for and had your fingerprints taken for.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

You should speak with a New York criminal defense attorney if you are accused of any offense, including disorderly conduct. The greatest approach to guarantee that your case has the best ending, even for a small crime, is to speak with an attorney. An attorney can guide you through the criminal justice system, explain what to expect in court, and defend your rights.

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