Disorderly conduct is a common offense. While it can carry fines and jail time, it is a relatively minor crime. Although disorderly conduct can remain on your criminal record and might appear during background checks, there may be ways to avoid conviction and keep the charges off your record.
If you or your child was charged with disorderly conduct in Ocean City, NJ, talk to the Ocean City disorderly conduct lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today. Attorney John Zarych has over 30 years of legal experience, and he and the rest of our attorneys fight to help protect our clients’ legal rights and help them avoid harsh criminal penalties. To schedule a free consultation on your case, call our law offices at (609) 616-4956.
Is Disorderly Conduct a Crime in Ocean City?
New Jersey’s criminal offenses are separated into “indictable crimes” and “disorderly persons offenses.” Only indictable crimes are technically considered “crimes,” and are similar to felonies in other states. Disorderly persons offenses are similar to other states’ misdemeanor offenses. There is a lower level of disorderly persons offense called a “petty disorderly persons offense,” which has a lowered maximum fine and is more akin to a summary offense or violation.
Disorderly conduct is one of these petty disorderly persons offenses. This means that disorderly conduct carries a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and a fine of $500, but the jail time is rare as a penalty. Judges may give only a fine if there is not sufficient violence or deliberate wrongdoing to justify jail time.
Because disorderly conduct is still a low-level offense, you can still be arrested, taken to jail, booked, released on bail, and ordered to appear at your court date. An attorney can represent you in court and challenge the case, and you are entitled to a trial if you choose that path. The government must prove you committed the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you. While your case may not be severe enough to warrant a jury trial, you are still entitled to have a judge hear the facts of your case before deciding the case.
If you face disorderly conduct charges, you may be able to avoid conviction. New Jersey prosecutors often give first-time offenders a chance to perform community service, seek alcohol abuse or anger management classes, or participate in another program rather than face criminal charges. If you successfully complete all terms as agreed, the prosecutor may drop the charges. This can occur as a formal part of New Jersey’s Pretrial Intervention Program or as part of an informal agreement.
What Qualifies as “Disorderly Conduct” in New Jersey?
New Jersey’s disorderly conduct statute is found in N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-2. This statute makes it illegal to perform various acts with the intent “to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm.” This mental requirement ensures that you cannot be charged with the offense simply by performing the conduct, but that the government must prove you also had the intent to bother or inconvenience others.
The specific conduct must be one of two things:
- “Engag[ing] in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior,” or
- “Creat[ing] a hazardous or physically dangerous condition by an act which serves no legitimate purpose.”
The first option is quite clear: if you start a fight, you can be charged with disorderly conduct. There are other offenses, such as assault, that might be charged instead. However, disorderly conduct is a petty disorderly persons offense, so it likely has a lower potential sentence. Moreover, having “disorderly conduct” on your criminal record is vaguer and does not create the same suspicion or fear as having “assault” on your record.
The hazardous condition subsection is not exactly clear what it means. In many cases, this subsection is used to punish pranksters and others who intentionally disturb the peace. Setting off fireworks, smoke bombs, or foul-smelling toys could all be considered hazardous or dangerous, justifying disorderly conduct charges.
Alternatively, there is a third way that disorderly conduct can be charged. If you use loud, course, abusive, and offensive language in a public place, you could be charged with disorderly conduct. This typically is not used to punish protestors or others practicing their first amendment right to free speech, but rather for people who direct their anger at others or cause disruptions while drunk. Yelling at a police officer, waiter, cash register operator, or another worker who upsets you can justify these charges, especially if you use swear words and cause a disruption. Additionally, drunk people loudly yelling while walking through residential areas at night could also face these charges.
Penalties for Disorderly Conduct Charges in Ocean County
Petty disorderly persons offenses are often met with citations; however, greater penalties are possible. Typically, a defendant facing disorderly conduct charges will have to pay a fine of up to $500. Still, petty disorderly persons offenses like disorderly conduct can also be punished with jail time. A defendant may face up to 30 days in jail if found guilty of disorderly conduct.
In mild cases, the police will often break up whatever fight or disruption is happening and issue the people involved citations for disorderly conduct. Serious consequences like arrest and jail time become more likely when other criminal charges, like assault related to a fight, are involved. For a disorderly conduct case, jail time is often replaced with an alternative sentencing option, like probation or community service. However, you should take these charges seriously no matter what.
If a defendant is facing only charges for disorderly conduct and no additional charges, they have no right to a jury trial. There are no jury trials for petty disorderly persons offenses because these charges are not considered crimes under the laws of New Jersey. However, a defendant does have the right to an attorney. Our Ocean County disorderly conduct defense attorneys can represent you and fight your charges.
Ocean City Disorderly Conduct Defense Attorney Offering Free Consultations
If you or your child was charged with disorderly conduct, it is important to talk to a lawyer about your case. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to challenge your arrest or the circumstances surrounding the charges against you. Alternatively, an attorney may be able to negotiate programs and education that help you avoid a conviction and a criminal record. For help with your disorderly conduct case in Ocean City, contact The Law Offices of John J. Zarych’s Ocean City disorderly conduct lawyers today at (609) 616-4956.