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Defending Obscene Language Charges in NJ

In New Jersey, most residents find themselves engaging in a case of “potty mouth” every now and then, whether it's when we are stuck in shore traffic on the Garden State Parkway on a summer weekend or sitting impatiently behind a line of trucks merging onto the New Jersey Turnpike. It's a reputation most NJ residents are not too ashamed to admit to; yes, we live in NJ and at times of high frustration, we use less than classical forms of the English language to express our emotions. However, what many residents may not be aware of is that engaging in obscene language in NJ is a petty disorderly persons offense and is punishable under NJ state law.

When is Use of Offensive Language Illegal?

In the state of NJ, in order to be charged with a petty disorderly persons offense involving obscene or offensive language under statute N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2, two things must be shown. First, a person must have used the language in a public place, such as a bar, restaurant, park or other public arena with the intention of offending the people around him or her or with disregard as to whether his language might offend others. Then, the language deemed offensive must have been uttered in a voice deemed loud enough to be unreasonable, given the surroundings and the people present.

Example of Disorderly Conduct Involving Obscene Language

You are attending an outdoor concert at the PNC Bank Arts Center in NJ. You have purchased lawn seats and the show you are viewing is considered “family friendly”, so the other concert goers in the area surrounding you and your friends may have small children with them. Alcohol is being sold at the event and you and your friends have each had a few drinks.
During the course of the concert, you get into an argument with a couple sitting in front of you who are singing along to the music. A verbal exchange ensues, with your voice rising and becoming loud enough as to attract attention from other guests. At the climax of the altercation, you engage in language considered offensive and security approaches to remove you from the event. You continue to use the language in question as you are asked to leave and this results in security calling officers to charge you with the petty disorderly persons offense of disorderly conduct.
You can be charged with this offense because you intentionally used abusive language toward the other guests and the security. Additionally, it was loud enough so that people sitting around you, not involved in the altercation, heard it, which may have included minors. This results in a petty disorderly persons offense carrying some penalties.

Elements of an Offensive Language Charge in NJ

As with a disturbance of the peace charge, in order for an offensive language charge to be valid under the disorderly conduct statute, there has to be evidence that your conduct was purposeful and malicious. Additionally, it has to prove that the language in question was used in a “public” location.
The NJ statute defines “public” as “affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access; among the places included are highways, transport facilities, schools, prisons, apartment houses, places of business or amusement, or any neighborhood”.

Penalties for Using Obscene Language in NJ

Offensive, obscene or abusive language use is a petty disorderly persons offense in New Jersey. It is punishable by a fine of up to $500. The charge will remain on your record for a minimum of five years, which may get in the way of you obtaining a job.

Call a NJ Lawyer About Your Disorderly Conduct Charge

If you have been charged with disorderly conduct for using obscene language in a public place, contact Villani & DeLuca today. The firm's experienced criminal defense attorneys can advise you on the way to best handle this charge and lend you their years of experience in order to meet your needs. Villani & DeLuca offers free consultations for all new clients, so call today.

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