Disturbing the peace is a criminal offense that covers a range of disruptive conduct. It can involve a person engaging in some sort of disorderly conduct in public such as causing excessive noise, disrupting funeral services, fighting, being drunk in public, or threatening to fight in public. Disturbing the peace basically happens when the person’s conduct, whether physical or verbal, interferes with the public’s right to peace.

Playing music at excessively loud volumes either in the public or within a person’s home so as to disturb others could constitute disturbing the peace. This usually occurs when a person plays their stereo equipment at excessive volume in their home or automobile. In addition, playing loud music may be an offense if a city or county enforces a specific noise ordinance.

Preventing other members of the public from using or occupying public spaces can constitute disturbing the peace. Preventing others from accessing public transportation can also be an offense. Or, making “unreasonably” loud noise on a public transportation vehicle, e.g. a bus or a subway, could constitute disturbing the peace.

In California, using offensive words in a public place of the type that are likely to cause a violent reaction is considered to constitute the crime of disturbing the peace. Making noise that could result in violence or which disturbs someone else’s lawful activity is also disturbing the peace.

However, in the case of making loud noise, it must be proven that the perpetrator did it maliciously, that is with the intent to hurt or annoy the victim. So, in a case in which an elderly gentleman played his TV at a loud volume because he was hard of hearing, the crime of disturbing the peace would not be proven. The perpetrator was not doing it with the intent to harm anyone else. Rather he had a valid excuse.

Every state and city has its own statutes governing the offense of disturbing the peace. So, a person would want to check with the codes and regulations of their local cities, counties and states for the specific definitions of disturbing the peace in the places where the person lives.

What Is the Purpose of Disturbing the Peace Law?

The purpose of disturbing the peace law is to avoid public disorder and chaotic conduct that disturbs the order and peace of the community. These laws are set in place to prevent people from hurting, annoying, and interfering with the public peace by conduct that is excessive and abnormal.

What Are the Legal Consequences of Disturbing the Peace?

Disturbing the peace is usually charged as a misdemeanor criminal offense. In most cases, a first violation for disturbing the peace would not result in jail time. Depending on the jurisdiction, a disturbing the peace violation could result in the following charges with the consequent punishment:

  • Infraction: Infractions are minor offenses usually punished by the imposition of a fine and possibly community service, but no jail time. Because there is no possibility of imprisonment, a person charged with an infraction is not entitled to a jury trial. In some localities an infraction might even be classified as a civil offense rather than a criminal offense something like a traffic ticket;
  • Misdemeanor: A misdemeanor is usually punished by a fine and/or a term of imprisonment no longer than one year. If a person is confined, it is in a county jail as opposed to state prison. Fines would usually be in the range of a several hundred to possibly a thousand dollars or more, depending on the nature of the offense.
  • Felony: In some places, depending on the circumstances of the crime, it can be charged as a felony. The possible punishments would include a year or more in state prison and imposition of a fine that might range from $1,000 to as much as $2,000 or more if the offense is especially egregious and not just a case of playing one’s music too loudly.

It is important to keep in mind that punishments will vary depending on the law of the locale in which a person is charged. Also, if a person is convicted of a second, third or fourth offense, the punishment would likely be more harsh than conviction of a first offense. In addition, a person might have other prior offenses that would lead to a harsher sentence for a conviction of disturbing the peace.

In many areas, a judge sentences defendants to a “time served” jail sentence for a conviction of disturbing the peace. This means the court allows a person who may have served a day or two in jail when arrested to use the time they already spent in jail as credit towards the jail sentence. Fines or probation can also be imposed.

For some convictions of disturbing the peace, a judge may also sentence a person to a term of probation. Probation typically lasts for at least 6 months. During this period, the person convicted of the crime has to meet specific conditions. For example, a person on probation has to make sure not to commit any additional crimes. If the person does commit another crime while on probation, they can rapidly end up in jail or prison for violating probation, if not for committing another crime. Also, if the person is stopped by the police for any reason, they must tell them that they are on probation.

Can Disturbing the Peace Result in a Criminal Record?

Disturbing the peace is generally considered one of the most minor of criminal offenses; however, if a person is convicted of a misdemeanor or felony offense, it appears on their criminal record just as any other misdemeanor or criminal offense would.

If a person is convicted of an infraction, this might help the person avoid the negative consequences of having a criminal record. For example, if a person who has been convicted of the infraction of disturbing the peace is asked if they have ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor on a job application or application for housing, the person can honestly respond in the negative.

Unfortunately, some applications may ask a broader question, i.e., if the person has ever been convicted of any kind of criminal behavior. In that case, the person with a conviction for the infraction of disturbing the peace would have to answer in the affirmative.

Fortunately, in some circumstances, the police would not charge a person for conduct that constitutes disturbing the peace, because the offense is considered too minor. So, for example, with regards to complaints by neighbors about noise levels, simply playing loud music would probably not result in any charge. Rather, the police would simply ask the person to stop making the loud noise, because there had been a complaint.

Only if a neighbor or other person who is offended by the conduct requests that the person be charged would the police do so. Often if they have the option of simply issuing a citation, they would do that. The citation would be at about the same level of seriousness as a traffic ticket.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Disturbing the Peace Issues?

Whether you are being charged with disturbing the peace or you would like to bring such a claim against another person, it is in your best interests to retain the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. You should make detailed reports of the incidences, including names, dates, and copies of any police reports or records.