A person who is convicted of disturbing the peace can be fined, and a second or subsequent conviction for disturbing the peace carries the possibility of a jail sentence.
Elements of Disturbing the Peace
In order to convict the defendant of disturbing the peace, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant participated in behavior which most people would conclude was unreasonably disruptive – for example, making disturbing and loud noises, throwing objects in a populated area, quarreling, threatening, fighting, uttering “fighting words,” or challenging others to fight;
- The defendant was acting intentionally and not by accident or mistake; and
- The defendant disturbed or annoyed at least one person.
Common Defenses and Defense Strategies
- Disturbing the peace is most often charged when the defendant is fighting on the street and the police get involved. There is always a question regarding whether the defendant’s actions annoyed or disturbed at least one person. If there is a brawl that starts in a bar and spills onto the street at closing time, and all of the participants and spectators are drunk, it may be difficult for the Commonwealth to prove anyone was annoyed or disturbed.
- A defendant is always entitled to use reasonable force to defend himself from being physically attacked. Therefore, if the defendant was involved in a fight on the street but was trying to defend himself, he can assert self-defense at trial. A victim of a physical attack has a strong defense against a charge of disturbing the peace.
- While a conviction for a second or subsequent disturbing the peace charge carries potentially serious consequences, it is a relatively minor crime. An assistant district attorney is not likely to spend a lot of time worrying about this type of case, and Attorney Spring will argue that the Commonwealth should dismiss the charge. A prosecutor will sometimes offer to dismiss these cases if the defendant agrees to perform community service or pay court costs. The defendant should usually accept this offer from the Commonwealth, because it eliminates the possibility of a conviction. Disturbing the peace is routinely charged by police officers as an “add-on” crime to offenses such as resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer. Since the penalty for a first offense is only a fine, defendants sometimes want to plead guilty and pay the fine to avoid going through a trial. This can be a mistake, as any conviction can act as a predicate to a subsequent offense, which is punishable by a jail sentence. If the defendant denies the charges or has a legal defense, pleading guilty is usually not a good decision.
Defendants do not always take these types of cases seriously, and that’s a mistake. While the penalty for a first offense is only a fine, a conviction can lead to more serious consequences. If you are charged with disturbing the peace, you should hire a Middlesex County criminal defense lawyer to represent you in court. Attorney Chris Spring will travel to your home for a free consultation regardless of whether you were accused of money laundering or making annoying phone calls. Contact Attorney Spring immediately to schedule a meeting.