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Disturbing a Meeting

July 21, 2016

It is not uncommon today to see media accounts of public meetings that are disrupted by some of those in attendance. Whether those who disturb the meeting are guilty of breaking the law depends on a number of factors. If the disturbance falls into certain carefully defined legal categories, than those engaging in that disruptive behavior may find themselves charged with disorderly conduct.

Disorderly Conduct

In order to maintain public order, municipalities and states pass laws designed to define what kind of behavior is considered inappropriate at public events. These laws are heavily dependent upon the circumstances under which the behavior occurs. Community events such as public meetings are among the locations in which disorderly conduct charges can be brought if the disruptive conduct occurs as defined under New York law.

New York Disorderly Conduct Statutes

Disrupting a meeting falls under New York’s disorderly conduct statute if the behavior involves fighting, rioting, disturbing a funeral or religious gathering or any act that is intentionally designed to annoy, inconvenience or upset the public. Creating an unreasonable amount of noise, using obscene language and gestures or creating a hazardous condition can all bring disorderly conduct charges if done at a public meeting. However, picketing at a meeting is protected by the 1st Amendment provided those picketing are not threatening others. If a person makes noises loud enough to be considered disrupting within 300 feet of a memorial service, religious service, funeral or burial, then this behavior is not considered protected under free speech rights and can result in disorderly conduct charges.

Other Forms of Disturbing a Meeting

New York law also allows prosecution of behavior that disturbs a meeting through conduct considered a form of loitering, with loitering defined as hanging around a public meeting without a good reason. Inappropriate reasons are defined as such activities as gambling, drug use or sales and prostitution. While intoxication by itself is not against the law, a person at a meeting who disrupts it due to intoxication can be taken into protective custody. It is also unlawful to openly encourage others to engage in violence or vandalism such as breaking windows and can result in charges of inciting to riot.

False Alarms

To make a false alarm or a fake bomb threat in order to disturb or cancel a meeting is a potentially serious crime. That is especially true if it is done by a person previously convicted of false alarms in the past. The seriousness is also greatly compounded if someone is injured or killed as a result of a panic or other disturbance created as a result of the false alarm.

Legal Punishment

A person convicted of disorderly conduct can face as much as 15 days in jail with an additional fine possible. If the meeting disrupted is a funeral or religious event, the penalties increase to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If the person disturbing the meeting is charged with a loitering offense, punishment of three months in jail and a $500 fine is possible. Should injury or property damage occur while disturbing a meeting, or there is inciting to riot, then the defendant faces as much as four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Proper Legal Assistance

Disorderly conduct or loitering charges relating to disturbing a public meeting depend heavily upon the precise circumstances under which the charges are brought. Only an experienced attorney who can evaluate all of the circumstances can decide what course of action will be in your best interest. Contact Raiser & Kenniff today for more information and a free consultation.

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