Disorderly Conduct

Don't go to Court with a disorderly conduct summons until you read this

If you are reading this you were probably recently handed a pink summons or desk appearance ticket charging you with a violation of New York Penal Law Section 240.20 (Disorderly Conduct) and directing you to appear at one of the various NYC criminal courts located in either the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan or Staten Island. (Brooklyn disorderly conduct pinks summons cases are handled in Manhattan at 1 Centre Street) 

If you have a summons for Disorderly Conduct in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx, don't panic.  Disorderly conduct under Penal Law Section 240.20 is among the most commonly issued summonses and desk appearance tickets ("DAT'S") for NYC Criminal court.   Many highly successful and law-abiding people have been 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. Cops in Manhattan often issue disorderly conduct tickets to bicyclists when the cops think that the bikers are riding in an unsafe manner.  Several years ago Alec Baldwin was cited for disorderly conduct a few years ago for riding his bicycle the wrong way on a one way street.  

Unlike most other New York Penal Law offenses which cover specific, narrowly-defined conduct, New York's Disorderly Conduct statue contains 7 different subsections,  to wit:  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.  These 7 subsections are liberally worded so when interpreted liberally they can cover plenty of everyday situations and behaviors.

Its important to know that NYC Criminal Court Judges understand that the NYPD issues lots of disorderly conduct summonses. In my experience these judges are oftentimes sympathetic to the plight of the typical law-abiding citizen who is charged with the 240.20.   With a splash of  good advocacy from an experienced defense lawyer these Judges are often willing to dismiss or "ACD" a disorderly conduct charge.    

I have handled hundreds and perhaps even thousands of disorderly conduct charges arising in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Many of my clients are law-abiding people who have never been charged with anything more serious than a parking ticket.  Yet, for one reason or another, the NYPD chose to summon them into NYC Criminal Court on disorderly conduct charges.  Most of the time, my clients were undeserving of the disorderly conduct summons and perhaps were just unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time where they crossed paths with an over eager rookie cop eager to pad his statistics.   

For example, a few friends arguing or just being loud late at night on a Manhattan sidewalk on the Lower East side might become the unlucky recipients of a disorderly conduct summons if the noise draws the attention of an overzealous police officer eager to meet a monthly summons or arrest quota.   Or, a Brooklyn bar customer might be arguing with a bouncer or restaurant worker over a mistake in the addition of the check.   If, for whatever reason, police get involved, they often take the bouncer's side of the argument and cite the customer with a violation of disorderly conduct subsection (1) "fighting or tumultuous conduct."  

Another example where the statue is overly used is with double parking.  In NYC, a person who double parks his vehicle for a few moments might find themselves getting a summons for disorderly conduct and being accused of violating the subsection on blocking vehicular traffic. This happens frequently in Manhattan and in the Bronx

But nowhere is the disorderly conduct statute capable of more liberal interpretation and abuse than with Subsection 7's rules again creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition.  Under subsection7, I have handled cases where NYC drivers were cited for failing to signal when changing lanes, failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign.  I have even represented clients charged with that section as pedestrians for crossing the street against the light.  A person walking down the street while texting might even be vulnerable to a charge under this section.

But, again, if you received a summons, don't despair!  Judges know that the statue is vulnerable to overuse and abuse by law enforcement.  Lawyers (myself included) who understand the intent  behind the statue and understand how the New York City Courts interpret the statue's reach should be well prepared to get your disorderly conduct summons dismissed as soon as you go to court. Call me at 212-786-2999 to discuss your summons.

Lawyers experienced in New York's Disorderly Conduct Statute know that regardless of which subsection is charged, there must either be an "intent to cause public annoyance, inconvenience or harm", Or the person has to "recklessly create a risk of public annoyance, inconvenience or harm the public".  Any experienced disorderly conduct lawyer will understand the importance of this language in defending their client.

One line of attack that is often successful is for the disorderly conduct lawyer to argue is as follows: whatever the incident giving rise to the summons--if the incident did not involve a significant segment of the public or was of public dimension--than it is not disorderly conduct.  There is ample support for this argument in the caselaw.  

For example, in the case of People v Gonzalez, the New York Court of Appeals  held that a defendant who shouted obscenities at a police officer in a Manhattan bound subway was not committing disorderly conduct even though his conduct drew provoking looks of surprise and evasive action from onlookers.   The Court held that a person may only be guilty of disorderly conduct when the situation extends beyond the exchange between the individual disputants to a point where it becomes a potential or immediate public problem.  

Moreover, even when the public is involved there has to be evidence of more than just a minor inconvenience them.  For example, in People v. Jones, the Court of Appeals held that defendant who was congregating on a public sidewalk in the Bronx could not be guilty of disorderly conduct for blocking pedestrian traffic just because people walking by suffered the minor convenience of having to walk around the defendant.

While disorderly conduct is not a "crime" under New York Law, it is important to treat the summons carefully to avoid any potential stigma from it.

To be clear,  Disorderly Conduct under Penal Law Section 240.20 is a "violation" and not a misdemeanor 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.  Since D