New York Disorderly Conduct: NY PL 240.20 and the “Public” Element

In the State of New York a violation is defined as an offense for which a defendant can be sentenced to no more than 15 days in jail. Disorderly Conduct (New York Penal Law 240.20) is a violation of the New York State Penal Code. A Disorderly Conduct conviction can have wide ranging consequences for most people ranging from community service and fees to incarceration (not likely in most scenarios) and damage to a professional career. Disorderly conduct should only be charged when you act in a way that provokes public disorder. Furthermore, you can be charged with Disorderly Conduct as long as you intend to cause “public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creat[e] a risk thereof.” Therefore, if you do not provoke or intend to provoke, public disorder then a Disorderly Conduct arrest should not stand on its own two feet. This was exemplified in the case of People v. Zuckerberg.

In the case of People v. Zuckerberg, 2012-1808 K CR, NYLJ 1202665659163 at *1 (App. Tm., 2nd., NY, Decided July 24, 2014) the defendant walked into the 61st police precinct in Brooklyn on February 17, 2012. According to police, while in the precinct the defendant spoke with the desk sergeant; the defendant asked the desk sergeant how the defendant could obtain a report regarding a prior arrest. The defendant was told that in order to obtain the report he had to go to Police Headquarters in Manhattan. The defendant then left the precinct. Shortly after leaving the defendant returned to the precinct and, according to the arresting officer, the defendant began screaming violently at the desk sergeant. The defendant was told to leave. When he refused, he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Mr. Zuckerberg testified that during his first visit to the precinct he spoke to a, presumably civilian, employee of the police department regarding how he could obtain the report associated with  his prior arrest. The employee gave the defendant a form and the defendant left the precinct. Upon his return the defendant asked the employee if he was “still gonna [sic] get a report or am I gonna [sic] go through all this and they’ll tell me you can’t have the report?” The employee replied that she did not know. At that point, according to the defendant, the desk sergeant entered the public area of the precinct, yelled at the defendant and told him to “get out of here.” Moments later at least three police officers grabbed the defendant from behind, threw him face down onto the floor, and handcuffed him. The trial court found the defendant guilty of disorderly conduct.

The defendant appealed his case to the Supreme Court Appellate Term. The appellate court in their published decision, first made it clear that there is “no per se requirement that members of the public… be involved or react to the incident” to sustain a disorderly conduct (Penal Law 240.20) conviction. Next, the Appellate Court found that in the instant case of People v. Zuckerberg the prosecution failed to meet their weight of evidence. Therefore, the prosecution did not prove that the defendant intended to cause a public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm beyond a reasonable doubt. According to the court since there were no members of the public inside of the police station it is reasonable to conclude that the defendant had no intention to influence any member of the public. The court also noted that the prosecution failed to present any evidence that the defendant intended to cause any public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or that he recklessly created a risk of public disruption. Additionally, the court stated that the mere fact that the incident occurred in a police precinct with the defendant standing alone, does not establish that the defendant intended to cause or recklessly created the risk of a public disturbance.

As trivial a charge a Disorderly Conduct can be, it can also be quite serious. Knowing the law or at least the basics of the violation is an important factor – and key early step in your defense – when confronted with a legitimate or illegitimate allegation.

To learn more about the New York Penal Law and its crimes and violations, review this blog or the websites listed below.

A criminal defense firm located in lower Manhattan, Crotty Saland PC’s New York criminal defense attorneys and former prosecutors represent clients accused of criminal and related offenses throughout the New York City region.

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