What is disturbing the peace?
Disturbing the Peace is a crime punishable in Massachusetts under M.G.L. c. 272, § 53. A first offensive could result in a fine of up to $150. A subsequent offense could lead to jail time of up to six months and/or a fine of $200.
This post will answer some frequently asked questions on disturbing the peace.
What does the government have to show to prove someone guilty of disturbing the peace?
In order to prove a defendant guilty of disturbing the peace, the Commonwealth must prove ALL of the following THREE elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That the defendant engaged in conduct which most people would find unreasonably disruptive
- The defendant’s actions were done intentionally, and NOT by accident or mistake
- That the defendant did in fact annoy or disturb AT LEAST ONE person
Calling the police supports the third element that the conduct of the defendant disturbed the people involved.
What is unreasonably disruptive conduct?
Examples of unreasonably disruptive conduct include:
- Making loud and disturbing noise
- Tumultuous (i.e. excited, confused, or disorderly) or offensive behavior
- Hurling objects in populated areas
- Threatening, quarreling, fighting, or challenging others to fight
- Uttering personal insults that amount to fighting words
What is evidence of disturbing the peace?
To amount to disturbing the peace, the defendant’s actions must have been voluntary.
Jurors will consider all the circumstances, including factors such as time and location, in determining whether the defendant BOTH:
- Disturbed the tranquility of AT LEAST ONE person
- Interfered with at least one person’s normal activity
Is offensive and abusive language disturbing the peace?
Unless offensive and/or abusive language falls outside the scope of First Amendment protection, a defendant CANNOT be charged with disturbing the peace.
Offensive and/or abusive language outside of First Amendment protection is language that constitutes profane, libelous, and insulting or fighting words that incite an immediate breach of the peace.
Moreover, note that it is NOT a defense that such abusive or offensive language outside of First Amendment protection accompanied protected speech.
Obscene or critical speech toward a police officer does not fall out of the scope of First Amendment protection. Although loud speech can legally be disturbing the peace.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH DISTURBING THE PEACE, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.