What Are the Criminal Penalties for Protesting in New York?

Under normal circumstances, protesting is a constitutional right in New York and every other state. However, due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio made the controversial decision to ban the right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Though the decision raises considerable concerns about upholding American civil liberties, many have chosen to continue peaceful (and in some cases, not so peaceful) protests in defiance of the order. Anyone participating in these protests may potentially be arrested and charged with a variety of crimes, including disorderly conduct. Below are some important facts related to the charge.

New York Disorderly Conduct Defined

Under Section 240.20 of New York Penal Law, disorderly conduct requires an intent by the charged individual to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or to recklessly create such a risk. For purposes of the ban, the most likely behavior cited in an arrest would be a refusal to comply with a lawful police order to disperse when congregating in a public place. However, the crime of disorderly conduct also may include behavior such as:

  • Making unreasonable noise
  • Engaging in fighting or violent, tumultuous, or threatening behavior
  • Obstruction of either vehicular or pedestrian traffic
  • Using abusive or obscene language or making obscene gestures in a public place
  • Unlawfully disturbing any lawful assembly or meeting
  • Creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition by an act which serves no legitimate purpose.


Though courts have a large amount of discretion in considering a penalty, disorderly conduct is a violation and must follow the maximum sentence permitted for violations in New York. This means disorderly conduct may be punished by no more than 15 days of incarceration or a fine of up to $250.


Unfortunately, the constitutional rights to assembly and free speech are not a defense to a disorderly conduct charge. However, there are several defenses that may be applicable:

  • Infancy – generally individuals under 16 years of age are not criminally responsible for disorderly conduct
  • Duress – someone being forced to perform the conduct against their will
  • Mental defect or disease
  • Justification – the behavior charged as disorderly conduct was authorized by law or required to avoid imminent injury to either the public or to a private person

New York Criminal Defense Lawyer

Any time you’re arrested and charged with a crime is a cause for serious concern. However, the current social climate has made many people decide to risk arrest despite the ban on protesting in New York, so it’s important to understand the potential charges and consequences you may face. If you end up with charge for the violation of disorderly conduct or any other crime, it’s critical that you have someone like the experienced criminal defense attorneys at MOWK Law by your side to try to secure the best possible outcome with regard to your situation. Contact us today to learn more, have your questions answered, and give yourself as much protection as possible.