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Where you charged with Disorderly Conduct, Obstructing Government Administration or Criminal Mischief or some other charge for exercising your Constitutional Right to Free Speech by protesting in New York City?
If you or someone you love was recently arrested in New York City by the NYPD for protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, chances are the charges include Disorderly Conduct, Obstructing Government Administration or Criminal Mischief.
Since bail cannot be set on either Disorderly Conduct, Obstructing Governmental Administration or Criminal Mischief, the cops likely gave you a pink summons or a desk appearance ticket directing you to appear later this summer at one of the NYC criminal courts. Probably in either Brooklyn or Manhattan since that was where most of the protesting was or is occurring. (Although Brooklyn Pink Summonses are also handled in Manhattan at 1 Centre Street.)
While nothing on this page should be considered legal advice and should not replace the advice of an experienced New York City criminal defense attorney, I have been handling disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and obstructing governmental administration charges in New York City for many years and I would like to offer a few thoughts on these charges within the context of lawful demonstrations.
FIRST, For many years, the NYPD has been handing out summonses for Disorderly Conduct under Penal Law Section 240.20 like hotcakes. Demonstrations or not, It is among the most commonly issued summonses and in recent years-- even before the recent demonstrations--many highly successful and law-abiding people have found themselves charged with disorderly conduct in New York City for innocent behavior such as standing in the street trying to hail a cab, arguing loudly with friends, cutting in line, going the wrong way on an escalator, talking back to cops and even double parking a vehicle. It's true and I am speaking from experience because I have personally handled situations like these over the years in the New York City Criminal Courts.
Cops in Manhattan often issue disorderly conduct tickets to bicyclists when the cops think that the bikers are riding in an unsafe manner. Even Alec Baldwin was cited for disorderly conduct a few years ago for riding his bicycle the wrong way on a one way street.
Disorderly Conduct has always been an NYPD favorite charge to give to protestors because unlike most other New York Penal Law offenses which cover specific, narrowly-defined conduct, New York's Disorderly Conduct statue contains 7 different subsections which can cover just about any sort of behavior imaginable that the police do not like and want to discourage. It is oftentimes used as a tactic by the NYPD to intimidate and hence discourage protestors.
Here are the different subsections to Penal Law 240.20 Disorderly Conduct:
1) fighting or tumultuous conduct
2) making unreasonable noise
3) using abusive or obscene language
4) disturbing a lawful assembly
5) blocking vehicular or pedestrian traffic
6) refusing to disperse and
7) creating a hazardous of physically offensive condition.
When looking at these 7 subsections for Disorderly Conduct it is easy to see how the NYPD could easily use and abuse this statute to try and discourage lawful protests
Many NYC Criminal Court Judges understand that the NYPD issues lots of Disorderly Conduct summonses, especially in times of protest and these Judges are often sympathetic to the plight of the typical law-abiding peaceful protestor charged with the 240.20 Dis Con.
Understand that Disorderly Conduct under Penal Law Section 240.20 is a "violation" and not a misdemeanor (Crime) or felony (crime) under the New York Penal Law which states under Section 15 that an offense has to carry a penalty of more than 15 days in jail to be considered a misdemeanor in New York. Disorderly Conduct charges carry a maximum of 15 days in jail, so they do not qualify as misdemeanors.
Nonetheless while disorderly conduct is not a "crime" under New York Law and while a conviction for Disorderly Conduct will not give a person a criminal record, it is important to treat the charge carefully when going to court to avoid any potential stigma from it.
Even though Violations such as Disorderly Conduct are not crimes and jail time is hardly ever imposed for this charge, they can still carry collateral consequences. For example, a person convicted of Disorderly conduct could potentially suffer immigration consequences, job application consequences or government benefits issues. So, a Disorderly Conduct charge should be handled with the care and respect with which any charge in criminal court should be handled.
With proper advocacy from an experienced defense lawyer, Judges and prosecutors are often willing to dismiss or "ACD" a disorderly conduct charge. That sort of disposition is often very critical because it allows for the case to be dismissed and sealed. For many people, dismissal can be a very important concern and it is something that you definitely should discuss with your lawyer
So, the bottom line with a Disorderly Conduct charge is that if you received one and are anticipating going to Criminal Court in NYC later this summer, don't panic and don’t obsess over it and allow it to distract you from your daily life! But still be cautious and be smart about it. Its not the end of the world but it is still a serious matter that must be handled properly.
Oftentimes, Disorderly Conduct violations can be resolved at the first court appearance with either a dismissal or an ACD. NYC Criminal Defense Lawyers experienced in New York's Disorderly Conduct Statute know how to handle these charges and can usually resolve it quickly and painlessly for you or your loved one.
The bottom line is that while I would hope that persons anticipating a court date do not fret too much over this charge, I strongly believe that a person going to court with this charge should consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer well in advance of the court date.
Unlike Disorderly Conduct, Obstructing Governmental Administration and Criminal Mischief are both crimes under the New York Penal Law and depending on the facts can be taken more seriously by Judges and prosecutors than just a Disorderly Conduct violation. Either can result in a criminal record if not handled properly.
Both Criminal Mischief and Obstructing Government Administration are A Misdemeanors which means that a conviction for either can result in a maximum sentence of 364 days at Riker's Island. Criminal Mischief can also be charged as a felony depending on the amount of damage. In fact, Criminal Mischief can also be charged as a felony when the damage to property is over 250 dollars which is easily reached in New York City. A felony is a very serious matter and requires the immediate attention of a very experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer.
Obstructing government administration is often charged when the police can allege that a person used physical force or intimidation to prevent a public servant from carrying out an official function. One can see how easily a charge such as that could happen in the context of a demonstration that gets a little contentious when the police show up. Sometimes people who refuse to move during a demonstration are charged with obstructing government administration.
Criminal mischief simply means that a person damaged the property of another without that person's consent. Graffiti, broken glass, any sort of damage to cars or buildings or street signs etc. will suffice and it’s another commonly occurring charge during street demonstrations. Anything on the street that is disturbed during the course of a demonstration can provide an excuse for the NYPD to charge criminal mischief.
It is not my purpose to alarm anyone here charged with criminal mischief or obstructing governmental administration. Depending on the facts, oftentimes, even those charges can be resolved in the same manner as a disorderly conduct even though they are more serious. But if you are charged with Obstructing Governmental Administration or Criminal Mischief while protesting it is important that you contact a good lawyer before going to court.
By “good” lawyer I mean a lawyer experienced in the New York City Criminal Courts. The last thing you would want would be to walk out of court with a misdemeanor conviction for criminal mischief or obstructing governmental administration unnecessarily because your case was mishandled by an attorney inexperienced in the NYC Criminal Courts.
Remember that it takes ten years in New York to get a misdemeanor conviction for criminal mischief or obstructing governmental administration sealed. That means that for ten years after conviction, a person convicted of either of those charges likely must report the conviction on many job, school and credit applications etc.
So, whether you are charged with just Disorderly Conduct or Obstructing Government Administration or Criminal Mischief. Or some combination of the three. Or perhaps another misdemeanor or felony, Whatever the charge, I highly recommend that you seek the advice of an experienced New York City Criminal Defense lawyer.
I would suggest that you question any attorney that you are contemplating hiring about that attorney’s specific experience in New York City Criminal Courts. Find out how often they visit the Manhattan or Brooklyn Criminal Courts. You will want a lawyer who visits these courts frequently because it is those lawyers who will best understand how to ensure that your case is resolved to your utmost benefit.
Call me at 212-786-2999 if you would like to discuss this further. Happy to give you a free consultation.