A criminal defense lawyer in Grand Rapids says the criminal offense of disturbing the peace or breach of the peace occurs when fighting, threatening to fight, or some disorderly conduct causes excessively loud noise for unreasonably long periods of time. When words or conduct violate the public right to peace and tranquility, the violator may be guilty of causing a disturbance of the peace.
State or local laws penalize disturbance or breach of the peace. While not a serious criminal offense, it is punishable by imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Elements of Disturbance of the Peace
According to the criminal defense lawyer in Grand Rapids, disturbing the peace varies by state but generally describes or refers to provocative words or conduct that compromises public safety or overall tranquility as, for examples:
- Fighting or provoking a fight in a public place
- Using offensive words likely to incite violence
- Shouting intended to foment violence or unlawful activity
- Knocking loudly on doors
- Holding an unlawful public assembly
- Shouting profanities repeatedly
- Allowing loud dog barking, and
- Playing loud music after a fair warning.
In most cases, the conduct must be willful or intentional. It is not enough that conduct merely annoys, harasses, or embarrasses the complainant. Fighting must be unlawful and not in either reasonable self-defense or defense of a third party.
To make findings on the issue of guilt, the criminal defense lawyer in Grand Rapids observes, courts consider the particular facts and circumstances of each case, the location, time, words, actions, and the identity of the complainant, whether, for example, a police officer, a family relative, or a stranger.
Common conduct that does not amount to disturbance of the peace:
- Simple harassment
- Mere annoyance
- Accidental jostling
- A mere gesture
There may be criminal liability, however, for nonviolent acts likely to invite violence or to bring about public disorder.
Purpose of the Law
Disturbing the peace is an offense against public order. Laws against disorderly conduct prevent unnecessary and potentially destructive disturbances that hinder citizens in tending to their affairs. Disturbing the peace may be incidental to the greater offense of disorderly conduct, which includes many public disturbances.
Disturbing the peace is a criminal misdemeanor for which convicted violators may face imprisonment for up to 90 days, fines of as much as $400, or both. Disturbing the peace is often a first criminal offense. Convicted first offenders usually avoid imprisonment in favor of a fine or a term of probation.
Victims of disorderly conduct or excessively loud noise or disruption should know what they can do to stop or minimize the harm:
- Ask the perpetrator(s) to cease and desist. If neighbors or acquaintances of the victim cause the disturbance and there is no apparent threat of harm, the victim might explain that the conduct is offensive and request that it stop. An exit plan might be wise if the situation escalates toward violence.
- Report it to the Police. If the disturbance continues or if danger is imminent, the victim may want to report it to the police, who would give the perpetrator(s) a fair warning. In most cases, the disruptive behavior ceases with the arrival of the police.
- Contact a Lawyer. Finally, if neither of the previous actions resolves the situation, it may be necessary to contact a Grand Rapids criminal attorney. Besides disturbing the peace, the criminal misconduct may violate nuisance laws, and a lawsuit to enjoin the perpetrator(s) from continuing it may be effective.
Legal Defenses to the Charge
Anyone charged with disturbing the peace should know the available legal rights and defenses. Disturbing the peace is an offense that gives police discretionary authority to apply it to behavior very broadly. Many defenses to criminal charges fall into two categories, either (1) the defendant didn’t do it or (2) if he did do it he had to and his conduct is excusable. There is also the possible defense under the constitutional right to free speech. Finally, the evidence may be simply insufficient to prove every element of a disturbance prohibited by law. In any case, a consultation with a criminal defense lawyer would be not only prudent but indispensable.
Prosecutors may file related offenses instead of or in addition to disturbing the peace charges. Misconduct prohibited by disturbing the peace laws may expose the perpetrator to civil liability for damages payable to an aggrieved victim. Because of the broadness of the definition of disturbing the peace, prosecutors often include it with more serious crimes of battery, domestic violence, or prostitution as a lesser included offense.
Disturbing the Peace in Plea Bargaining
A Grand Rapids criminal attorney often uses disturbing the peace in plea bargaining negotiations against more serious charges their clients face. Because disturbing the peace rarely results in jail time and not much when it does, they employ it in discussing guilty plea dispositions with prosecutors. Defendants charged with greater criminal offenses may do well to ask their attorneys whether offering to plead guilty to disturbing the peace might be of use to them.
Permanent Criminal Records
Background checks for criminal activity often do not include minor offenses of disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct when the subject of the check is a first offender. Some states and organizations, however, may require disclosure of this information on admission or employment applications. In such cases, applicants should check local state laws for when and how they should disclose prior charges and convictions for disturbing the peace
Disturbing the peace is an offense against public order in favor of chaos. These laws cover behavior broadly and vary from state to state. Typically, disturbing behavior must be willful and intentional to violate laws against disturbing the peace. Actions in reasonable self-defense or defense of others are not violations, nor are words or actions protected by the right to free speech.
Most criminal cases end in guilty pleas from plea bargaining. Prosecutors make plea bargain offers that reflect the risks they see in going to trial. Then they make plea offers to get defendants to plead guilty.
We evaluate the offers and make recommendations on whether to accept or to reject them; however, we never pressure clients to plead guilty. The decision to accept or reject a plea-bargain offer is for the client only.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Grand Rapids
For more help with your criminal charges, call a criminal defense lawyer in Grand Rapids from Miel & Carr PLC at 616-773-2945 to set up a consultation.