Disorderly Persons vs. Disorderly Conduct — What’s the Difference?

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New Jersey criminal law can be confusing, especially regarding what certain criminal charges are called. Two such terms are disorderly persons and disorderly conduct. While these phrases might sound similar, they represent different charges and carry distinct potential consequences. Understanding these differences is crucial if you face either of these charges.

Differences Between Disorderly Persons and Disorderly Conduct Charges

New Jersey law uses “disorderly persons” as a general term referring to a wide range of offenses that do not rise to the level of an indictable crime. These offenses, which include shoplifting, simple assault, harassment, and trespass, are considered less severe than indictable offenses. The law in many other states would call these “misdemeanors.”

On the other hand, disorderly conduct is a specific charge falling under the category of disorderly persons offenses. It involves behaving in a way that creates a public disturbance, such as:

  • Fighting
  • Using offensive language
  • Causing a hazardous or physically dangerous condition without a legitimate purpose

While disorderly conduct is a type of disorderly persons offense, not all disorderly persons offenses involve disorderly conduct. An awareness of this distinction is crucial when facing charges, as the potential defenses and consequences differ depending on the offense.

Potential Defenses for Disorderly Persons and Disorderly Conduct Charges

Appropriate defenses for disorderly persons and disorderly conduct charges depend on the specific circumstances of your case. However, some common defenses include:

  • Insufficient evidence – The prosecution must prove that you committed the alleged act beyond a reasonable doubt. If prosecutors fail to provide enough evidence, your attorney can argue for dismissal or acquittal.
  • First Amendment protection – For disorderly conduct charges involving offensive language or gestures, your attorney may argue that the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause protects your actions.
  • Self-defense or defense of others – If you are facing charges for fighting, your attorney may argue that you were acting in self-defense or defense of another person.
  • No public disturbance – In cases involving disorderly conduct charges, your attorney may argue that your actions did not cause a public disturbance or inconvenience, which the statute requires as an element of the crime.

What Are the Potential Punishments for a Disorderly Conduct Conviction in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, disorderly conduct is considered a petty disorderly persons offense. If convicted, you may face the following penalties:

  • Fines – You may be required to pay a fine of up to $500.
  • Jail time – You could face up to 30 days in jail.
  • Probation – The court may impose probation, including community service, counseling, or other conditions.
  • Criminal record – A disorderly conduct conviction will appear on your criminal record, which can negatively affect your employment and housing opportunities.

Contact Our Experienced New Jersey Disorderly Persons Defense Attorney Today

If you are facing disorderly persons or disorderly conduct charges in New Jersey, don’t hesitate to contact our experienced defense attorneys at William Proetta Criminal Law. We will work tirelessly to build a solid defense and fight for the best possible outcome in your case. With a thorough understanding of New Jersey’s legal system and a commitment to protecting your rights, we are the team you need by your side.

Contact us today for a free case review to learn more about how we can help you. Hire a defense attorney who has your back.


With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.