You and your friends go out for a Saturday night of hitting the bars in Union County. You stay somewhat local – from Elizabeth to Roselle, to Linden – and back to Elizabeth. Meanwhile, the drinks are flowing to the point of excess. While walking on the sidewalk from one place to another in the early morning, you begin to yell loudly at passersby. In fact, your language gets offensive and you begin to make lewd gestures.
Unfortunately, in a sad turn of events for you, your alcohol-fueled antics have taken place within view and earshot of a parked patrol car. You are subsequently questioned by a law enforcement officer, who doesn’t accept your side of the story that you were just clowning around. You are charged with disorderly conduct. Frankly, it’s a first. Should you be worried?
What is Disorderly Conduct?
You don’t have to be drunk to be charged with disorderly conduct in public. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2, “public” means a place where a substantial group of people has access. This includes “highways, transport facilities, schools, prisons, apartment houses, places of business or amusement, or any neighborhood.”
According to the statute, New Jersey disorderly conduct falls into two categories: improper behavior and offensive language.
You can be arrested for improper behavior if you cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly create a risk by:
- Engaging in fighting or threatening or violent or tumultuous behavior
- Creating a hazardous or physically dangerous condition which serves no legitimate purpose.
For example, getting into a threatening argument with someone over a parking space can be considered improper behavior.
According to the statute, offensive language is considered to be words that offend people within hearing distance with reckless disregard. This includes unreasonably loud and offensively coarse or abusive language. The offensive language element of the statute is hardly ever charged and very difficult to prove.
Penalties for Disorderly Conduct
Being charged with disorderly conduct shouldn’t be taken lightly. These charges are heard at the Municipal Court level, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. A conviction can carry serious consequences including a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail. If a motor vehicle was used while committing the offense, the court may suspend the defendant’s driver’s license for up to two years. It will also show up on your record when you apply for a job or school.
If you are arrested for disorderly conduct, do not automatically plead guilty. The charge can be open to interpretation by the arresting law enforcement. You should hire an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney to help you with a defense.