Can You Be Prosecuted Solely because of the Words You Use?
In New Jersey, unlike other states, crimes are categorized either as disorderly persons offenses or indictable offenses. Disorderly persons offenses are similar to misdemeanors in other states and are typically prosecuted in municipal court. One of the more common disorderly persons offenses is disorderly conduct, typically charged as a petty disorderly offense, carrying a maximum potential sentence of six month in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
What Is Disorderly Conduct in New Jersey?
As a general rule, disorderly conduct is any action or behavior that either interferes with the peace and quiet in a community or poses a risk to the safety or well-being of individuals within a community. Because disorderly conduct involves perceived threats to the community, the acts that lead to such a charge must typically occur in a public place. Typical behaviors that are charged as disorderly conduct include inciting violence, engaging in fighting or brawling and throwing items, such as rocks or bottles, at a person or object. Under the right circumstances, though, the use of certain language can constitute disorderly conduct.
When Will Words Be the Basis of a Disorderly Conduct Charge in New Jersey?
Under New Jersey law, if you make verbal threats toward another person or if you use language that includes racial slurs or that may reasonably be considered abusive, harassing or offensive, you may be subject to prosecution for disorderly conduct. The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice specifically prohibits language “in a public place…with the purpose to offend the sensibilities of the hearer or in reckless disregard of the probability of doing so…” The statute is fairly broad, indicating that person may be charged for any language that is “unreasonably loud and offensively coarse or abusive…”
Doesn’t the First Amendment Protect Your Freedom of Speech?
Not necessarily. The First Amendment guarantees are not absolute and are generally not considered to protect hateful or threatening words.
Contact Attorney Matthew V. Markosian to Protect Your Constitutional Rights
To set up an appointment with attorney Matthew V. Markosian, call us at 609-455-2090 or contact our office by email. Evening and weekend appointments can be scheduled, upon request. Your first consultation is without cost or obligation. Because of our experience and reputation, most of our new cases come to us as referrals from other attorneys, or from former clients.
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