Legal Term Tuesday: Disturbing the Peace

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Legal Term Tuesday: Disturbing the Peace

Legal Term Tuesday: Disturbing the Peace

Justin Lavelle
January 26, 2016

This is the latest entry in BeenVerified’s legal term library designed to help you better understand public record information, criminal records and related terminology. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

Disturbing the peace sounds like a mere nuisance, but it’s actually a criminal offense. What constitutes a disturbance of the peace and will it remain on the guilty party’s public record? Read on to find out.

Like many criminal offenses, disturbing the peace means different things in different states, so it’s important to read up on your state and country ordinances if you have questions about it. Broadly speaking however, disturbing the peace can be defined as “words or conduct that compromises the safety, health, morals or overall peace and quiet of the public,” according to FindLaw. Some states roll up such offenses in a broader “disorderly conduct” category of offenses and there can be overlap between the two.

Common examples of disturbing the peace can include playing loud music in and outside of your home during night hours, using offensive language in public, challenging a person to a fight, bullying on school grounds and holding an unlawful gathering, according to FindLaw.

While some jurisdictions will treat disturbing the peace offenses as infractions, particularly for first time offenders, many consider it to be a serious crime which can result in being charged with a misdemeanor and in some cases, even a felony, according to NOLO. Penalties can include jail time, probation and fines.

One important nuance in disturbing the peace cases, focuses on the intentionality of the offender. Typically, it must be proven that the offender in question has intentionally or consciously caused the stated harm with his or her actions. This is typically why police provide those who are playing music too loudly or have allowed a dog to bark through the night multiple warnings before charging a person. This helps to establish that the person in question was aware of the problem and did not rectify it, according to FreeAdvice.

Disturbing the peace may appear on a public criminal record depending on the elevation of the charge. Felonies, misdemeanors and infractions can and usually do appear on public records, however some states have enacted laws making expungement of an infraction easier to accomplish in recent years.

Celebrities who have faced disturbing the peace charges include singer Tom Waits, actor Shia LaBeouf and Jersey Shore favorite Snooki.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.