In New Jersey, disorderly conduct is a petty disorderly persons offense. The maximum jail term upon conviction is 30 days in the county jail. The fine could range up to $500. If there is some sort of pecuniary or property loss to an involved party, the court could order restitution. Disorderly conduct is not a crime within the meaning of the New Jersey State Constitution. However, it will appear on your criminal record. Therefore, the effect is virtually the same for all practical purposes. If arrested, charged, and convicted of a disorderly conduct offense, you will not be eligible to have the charge removed from your record for five years pursuant to the New Jersey expungement statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1.
Therefore, it is important that you take steps to avoid conviction. I am a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer and have had tremendous success defending clients against NJ disorderly conduct charges. The following sections discuss the elements of a disorderly conduct offense and the various defenses that may be asserted.
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2, there are two enumerated types of disorderly conduct; improper behavior under subsection a. and offensive language under subsection b.
Dealing with the subsections in reverse order, subsection b., offensive language is rarely charged and extremely difficult to prosecute. This is because the statute has been held unconstitutional for over breadth. Nonetheless, the State could still seek conviction if the alleged language is so offensive to the hearer that it threatens an immediate breach. This standard is objective, meaning that it does not matter whether the hearer was actually offended, but rather that a ordinary person could have been expected to be offended.
This is shaky at best, and I cannot recall ever losing a case like this. Nonetheless, if unrepresented the State may seek to prosecute. If charged with disorderly conduct under the N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2(b) you should contact my office for a free consultation. The legal fees will be very reasonable and you can feel confident that your interest will be ardently defended.
Charges under subsection a. are more common and easier for the State to prove. But I have had great success defending clients charged under this section as well. To be convicted under this subsection the state must prove that the defendant caused:
- Public inconvenience, public annoyance, or public alarm, or reckless risk thereof
- By fighting, threatening violent or tumultuous behavior, or by creating a hazardous or physically dangerous condition by an act serving no legitimate purpose of the actor.
The state must prove that there was a public inconvenience, meaning that if no one other than a police officer was there to witness it, this element may not be met. Additionally, the behavior has to go beyond buffoonery. There needs to be something particularly aggressive or threatening about the action taken or the threat thereof. Moreover, there is an intent element that must be proven, meaning that the defendant had to act with purpose, and that his actions had no legitimate purpose.
In my experience, most charges under the improper behavior subsection are a result of some type of physical altercation, frequently outside a bar or party, with alcohol involved. And in most cases, I am able to defeat the charges entirely or significantly downgrade the offense so no conviction appears on my client’s criminal records.
It is wise to contact an attorney if charged with NJ disorderly conduct. Hiring a lawyer to represent you will cost some money, but remember the money you could lose if a criminal conviction were to appear on your record.