In New York, if a person has an interaction with a police officer and finds that he is not free to leave, there is a good chance that the charge may be “disorderly conduct.” The law on disorderly conduct is found in Section 240.20 of the Penal Law. Disorderly conduct is a “violation” and not a crime. It is punishable by up to 15 days in jail, or a $250 fine, or both. What counts as disorderly conduct is quite vague (any activity that causes public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm), and it usually means that the police officer didn’t like your behavior or attitude but cannot charge you with any crime.
If you are charged with disorderly conduct, the officer will often simply give you a summons ordering you to appear before a judge in criminal court in a month or two. If this happens, you must appear before the judge on the proper day, or a warrant can be issued for your arrest. This is called a “bench warrant.” Alternatively, if you do not have identification, have an open criminal case, or if the officer is having a bad day or doesn’t like you, he may arrest you and bring you before a judge.
If you are charged with disorderly conduct it is often a good idea to plead not guilty. Judges and prosecutors are often lenient towards disorderly conduct charges, and may be willing to reduce the charge or dismiss it entirely. Also, if you were given a summons for a disorderly conduct and cannot appear on the court date, it is often a good idea to hire an attorney. With an “authorization to appear” in hand, a lawyer can appear on your behalf and negotiate the charge or have it dismissed without you having to attend court.