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Riot, Disorderly Conduct, and Other Offenses

The first criminal charge relating to an offense against the public order is Riot. A person is guilty of it when, simultaneously with four or more other persons, he engages in tumultuous and violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly causes or creates a grave risk of causing public alarm (PL 240.05). This Class A misdemeanor becomes a Class E felony where ten or more persons engage in similar behavior resulting in some non-participant suffering physical injury or substantial property damage (PL 240.06).

Disorderly Conduct (PL 240.20) is one of the most vaguely defined charges in the Penal Law and is regularly used to justify a wide variety of arrests by the New York City police. A person can be guilty of this charge if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he:

  1. engages in fighting or in violent, tumultuous or threatening behavior, or
  2. makes unreasonable noise, or
  3. in a public place, uses abusive or obscene language or makes an obscene gesture, or
  4. without lawful authority, disturbs any lawful assembly or meeting of persons, or
  5. obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic, or
  6. congregates with other persons in a public place and refuses to comply with a lawful order of the police to disperse, or
  7. creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose.

This charge is a violation and is punishable by up to 15 days in jail. It is frequently offered as a prosecutor’s plea bargain offer in minor misdemeanor cases where the defendant has no criminal record.

Another common violation is Harassment in the Second Degree (PL 240.26). A person is guilty of it if he strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects another person to physical contact (or attempts or threatens to do the same) with intent to harass, annoy or alarm that person. Essentially, this is an assault without the physical injury. A person can also be arrested for Harassment in the Second Degree when he or she engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts that alarm or seriously annoy another person and which serve no legitimate purpose, and does so with the same intent as described above. A person can be charged with the misdemeanor crime of Harassment in the First Degree if they repeatedly and intentionally harass another person by following them in or about public places or by engaging in a course of conduct which places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury (PL 240.25).

Another common charge, Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree (PL 240.30), often arises in cases where threats are made over the telephone or via email. There are three different ways to be guilty of this crime, but subsection 1 makes it illegal to communicate with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, or by telegraph, mail or any other form of written communication in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person. This crime is a Class A misdemeanor.

Aggravated Harassment in the First Degree, a Class E felony, prohibits a variety of acts motivated by the intent to “harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person because of a belief or perception regarding such person’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct” (PL 240.31). Specifically, it prohibits damage to religious premises in excess of $50 as well as burning crosses in public and the painting of swastika graffiti on property without consent. A person can be guilty of subsection 3 of Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree if he strikes, shoves, kicks or subjects another to physical contact without their consent (or attempts to do so) with this same hateful intent, and a repeat offender of this subsection can be charged with Aggravated Harassment in the First Degree as well.

Interestingly, it is a violation under PL 240.40 to appear in a public place under the influence of narcotics or a drug (other than alcohol) to the degree that he may endanger himself or other persons or property or annoy persons in his vicinity.

The other common charge in this chapter relates to the false reporting of incidents. It frequently arises when people make phony calls to 911, or when people make false complaints to the police about someone else. Under Section 240.50, a person is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor if when, knowing the information reported, conveyed or circulated is false or baseless, he 1) reports to an official or quasi-official agency or organization having the function of dealing with emergencies involving danger to life or property, an alleged occurrence or impending occurrence of a catastrophe or emergency which did not in fact occur or does not in fact exist, or 2) gratuitously reports to a law enforcement officer or agency the alleged occurrence of an offense or incident which did not in fact occur, an allegedly impending occurrence of an offense or incident which in fact is not about to occur, or false information relating to an actual offense or incident or to the alleged implication of some person therein. This crime can be a more serious felony if the false reported incident involves a fire or explosion or results in an injury stemming from the emergency response to the false report (see Penal Law Sections 240.55 and 240.60).

Key Penal Law Provisions:

  • Riot in the second degree, PL 240.05, a class A misdemeanor
  • Riot in the first degree, PL 240.06, a class E felony
  • Unlawful assembly, PL 240.10, a class B misdemeanor
  • Criminal anarchy, PL 240.15, a class E felony
  • Disorderly conduct, PL 240.20, a violation
  • Harassment in the second degree, PL 240.26, a violation
  • Harassment in the first degree, 240.25, a class B misdemeanor
  • Aggravated harassment in the second degree, PL 240.30, a class A misdemeanor
  • Aggravated harassment in the first degree, PL 240.31, a class E felony
  • Appearance in public under the influence of narcotics or a drug other than alcohol, PL 240.40, a violation
  • Falsely reporting an incident in the third degree, PL 240.50, a class A misdemeanor
  • Falsely reporting an incident in the second degree, PL 240.55, a class E felony
  • Falsely reporting an incident in the first degree, PL 240.60, a class D felony
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