Criminal Law

Disturbing the Peace

Disturbing the peace, sometimes called "breaching the peace" is typically a relatively minor charge, but can be more serious in some circumstances. Each state has its own rules about what actions lead to a disturbing the peace charge and the severity of the consequence. However, there are a few basic elements that are usually the same in disturbing the peace charges. Understanding the charge you're facing may make it easier to combat a conviction, or to at least minimize your sentence.

What is Disturbing the Peace?

In a very basic sense, disturbing the peace means causing some kind of nuisance or disruption that bothers other people. Common reasons for being charged with disturbing the peace include:

  • Playing excessively loud music
  • Throwing a large, noisy party
  • Shouting obscenities
  • Getting into a physical (or a loud verbal) fight
  • Being heavily intoxicated in public

For a valid disturbing the peace charge, your actions need to be unreasonable and extreme enough that any rational person would find them disruptive. Having the volume up loudly on your television likely isn't a cause for disturbing the peace on its own, unless it's at a truly outrageous level that understandably bothers your neighbors.

It doesn't matter if you intended to disturb the peace or not; usually all that matters is that you intended to do the action that disturbed the peace.

What Happens if I'm Charged with Disturbing the Peace?

In some cases, for example if your music is playing too loudly late at night, you may just be asked to remedy the problem by turning the music down. If you are actually charged, however, you may need to go before a judge and could face penalties from the court.

For first time offenses of comparatively minor disruptions some states may charge you with an infraction. Infractions are usually not considered crimes, though you may still need to pay a small fine.

It's more common, however, for the court to consider disturbing the peace a criminal misdemeanor. Jail time for a first time offense of this misdemeanor is usually rare, but not impossible. The punishment will more likely be a fine, around $100 to $200 or so in most jurisdictions, or community service. Sometimes this particular charge may still show up on a background check if you're convicted, however.

If you've been charged with disturbing the peace before or if your actions were particularly egregious, you might face more serious charges. Some jurisdictions may even consider a felony disturbing the peace charge under certain circumstances. Harsher penalties for disturbing the peace include increased fines of a $1,000 or more, or even a few months to a year in jail.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Disturbing the Peace?

Depending on the context of your arrest, you may need to consider getting help from an attorney. Attorneys who are familiar with disturbing the peace cases and potential implications could help you build a stronger case to avoid conviction or decrease your penalties. If you have a stiffer crime and are facing damaging penalties, a lawyer may be able to help reduce your charges.

How you respond to your charges and the things you say and do early on can impact the direction and outcome of your case. An experienced attorney could provide valuable guidance to start you off on the right foot to help you present the strongest possible case.