Disturbing the Peace: is it a Serious Criminal Offence?

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Disturbing the Peace: is it a Serious Criminal Offence?

Disturbing the peace, or breaching the peace, is a complicated categorization of a wide variety of offenses. Most people believe that breaching the peace isn’t serious. A person’s intent can have an impact on legal action after the fact. Common questions surrounding the issue include:

  • Is disturbing the peace a crime?
  • Why is disturbing the peace a crime?
  • Is disturbing the peace a crime of violence?

It’s a broad topic, and often difficult to ascertain which actions fit in the category. However, breaking it down piece by piece can make the issue clear. 

What Is Breaching the Peace?

Breaching the peace is when a person creates any situation, on private or public property, that negatively impacts the individuals in the vicinity. These are essential details to consider:

  • It usually takes place in a public space
  • Overstepping personal boundaries
  • Any action that jeopardizes other’s rights to peace

Fighting or Challenging Someone to Fight in Public

Taunting or provoking another individual to engage in any form of physical combat is considered disturbing the peace. It includes actions like:

  • Verbal and physical threats of violence
  • Use of offensive words that may provoke violence in public
  • Bullying at an educational institution

Disturbing Public Assembly

Any person that interrupts the right to peaceful assembly in public can be charged with disturbing the peace. This includes interrupting a gathering with offensive language, yelling, or screaming. Here are a few more examples:

  • Destroying private property at a rally or protest, including signs, stalls, or goods sold on a given location
  • Making a scene while under the influence
  • Intentionally causing loud noises to bother another person or group of people
  • Allowing an animal to make noise for an extended period
  • Playing music at odd hours and high volume

Physical Contact

Engaging in violence is a clear example of disturbing the peace. However, some more subtle situations are classified in the same category.

  • Touching someone without permission
  • Confiscating someone’s property (cell phone, make-up, etc.), even temporarily

Things Not Considered Disturbing the Peace

A more significant number of interactions in public might seem to breach the peace, but they’re permitted. Some examples can offend varying groups and individuals, but they’re protected by freedom of speech. The context of each situation can play a significant role in deciding the severity of a case.

Examples

  • Calling out to another individual with words or noises holding sexual undertones
  • Most demeaning vocabulary that might offend others
  • Dancing in public
  • Singing at a reasonable volume
  • Rude hand gestures
  • Jokes

What Is Disturbing the Peace as a Crime?

Breaching the peace is most definitely a crime. But what is it as a crime? Well, it’s a bit complicated. It can fit in various categories depending on the severity of the event. Here are some details we need to look into before creating a defense:

  • It’s usually considered an infraction but can elevate to a misdemeanor depending on the jurisdiction.
  • In most cases, a determining factor is whether an individual willfully engaged in the activity in question.
  • Besides intent, ignoring a warning to stop disturbing the peace can also form an essential aspect of a case.
  • Past criminal history can also significantly impact a case.
  • It can be a violent crime, depending on varying circumstances.

Legal Consequences

A vast majority of cases are considered civil infractions and never end up on a personal record. Even so, some jurisdictions consider disturbing the peace a misdemeanor. Here are some consequences that come with either an infraction or misdemeanor:

Infraction vs. Misdemeanor
Equivalent to a traffic or parking ticketImpacts employment opportunities
Fine of hundreds, up to thousands of dollarsCan include jail time between six months and a little over a year
Community serviceIs listed on a person’s permanent criminal record

 

Common Crimes Charged With Disturbing the Peace

More often than not, breaching the peace occurs alongside other violations of the law. The three most common examples are:

Additional Consequences to Keep in Mind

Non-citizen defendants can be deported from the country or marked inadmissible. A conviction for this offense while on school property, be it college, high school, or elementary school, carries a minimum jail sentence of ten to sixty days if it’s a second offense.

Common Legal Defenses for Disturbing the Peace

An attorney needs to put together some sort of defense for clients that breach the peace. Generally, they take the following into account:

  • Intent
  • Self-defense
  • False accusations
  • The First Amendment

Intent

This variable considers what the accused had in mind while disturbing the peace. It can play a significant role in court. If the person didn’t act maliciously, willfully, or with an intent to provoke violence or had no criminal intent, the judge might reconsider the sentence. We should consider the following, though:

  • This argument is circumstantial and varies significantly from case to case
  • It’s difficult to prove

Self-Defense

Disturbing the peace as a result of self-defense is valid. The person feared for their physical well-being and believed that force was the only option for protecting themselves or another person. We should look at the following before we decide on this line of reasoning:

  • The harm committed was mostly inconsequential
  • The actions were reasonable given the situation

False Accusations

If another person intends to cause the individual distress or harm through false allegations, a court might throw the case out. The suggestion of a false accusation implies that the act never occurred in the first place. These are the most common instances:

  • Someone seeks revenge against a person and claims they pushed for violence
  • An authority figure is wrongly using the law against an individual due to personal differences or due to their attitude

The First Amendment

A person can’t be found guilty of disturbing the peace, or any crime for that matter, if the First Amendment protects their words or actions. There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between. The right to speak freely is heavily protected under the law. This is another circumstantial defense, as the context of a situation determines whether it works or not. Incitement of violence is not tolerated.

Need more information about disturbing the peace? Get in touch with Thomas C. Grajek today.

Reach Out to Thomas C. Grajek

“While disturbing the peace isn’t always a question of intent, it plays a major role in how a case is decided. People should keep that in mind before panicking from an accusation or accusing another person.”

— Thomas C. Grajek

FAQs About Disturbing the Peace

Can disturbing the peace result in a felony conviction?

No. However, if it’s an additional charge to others, it may play a role in a court’s decision for a more severe sentence.

Why is disturbing the peace a crime?

The motivation behind this legislation is to prevent chaos in the general public. The restrictions set in place are meant to cause some level of peace for people.

Does someone have to commit an act of violence to consider it a breach of peace?

No. There are seemingly innocent actions or verbal cues that can land people a sentence.

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