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What is “Disturbing the Peace?” Can I Go to Jail for it?

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

What is “Disturbing the Peace?” Can I Go to Jail for it?

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Disturbing the Peace in Texas

Many people may have heard of a criminal offense call “disturbing the peace” but not everyone knows just what this charge means. Also known as “breach of the peace” or “disorderly conduct,” this criminal charge is used in a wide variety of cases. Because it can be applied in many different situations, disturbing the peace is a fairly common charge.

However, this does not mean that this is not a serious charge. Being convicted on a disorderly conduct charge can lead to tough consequences. The outcome of a breach of the peace case can be influenced by the circumstances of the initial incident.

Defining the Crime

In strict legal terms, disturbing the peace refers to any behavior that infringes upon the safety, order and sensibilities of the public. Essentially, an action that makes others feel threatened, unsafe or unnecessarily disturbed may be classified as disorderly conduct.

This can include actions like:

  • Participating in an illegal protest
  • Playing loud music late at night after a warning has been issued
  • Interrupting the flow of traffic
  • Shouting, fighting or obscene behavior in a public place
  • Making credible threats of violence
  • Trespassing or vandalism
  • Being intoxicated in public
  • Preventing a business from engaging in normal operations

In order for a person to be convicted of disorderly conduct, their behavior must have been an intentional disruption of the peace. This means that the actions must have been done in a willful way.

For example, suppose that Dave wants to stage a protest at a city hall meeting. He enters the meeting room carrying a protest sign. He is then told that he must stage the protest in a designated area outside of the building. If he complies with this request, he won’t be charged.

However, if Dave returns and bursts into the meeting room shouting loudly and waving a sign, he may be arrested for disorderly conduct. This is because Dave knew that protests were only allowed in the designated area and that his conduct was likely to disrupt the normal operation of the meeting room. Willfully disturbing the meeting can lead to an arrest and a ride to the county jail.

Legal Consequences

There are many different possible legal punishments for a breach of the peace conviction. In most cases, disorderly conduct charges are given for misdemeanors. They may be charged in conjunction with other offenses.

For example, a person who threatens to start a fight while drunk may be charged with public intoxication and disturbing the peace.

It is somewhat common for breach of the peace charges to be offered as part of a plea deal. For example, if the person who became disruptive while intoxicated agrees to plead guilty to disturbing the peace, the court may offer to drop the public intoxication charge.

Legal penalties for a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge can include:

  • Up to a year in jail
  • Up to $2000 in fines
  • Up to six months of probation
  • Mandatory anger management classes or substance abuse treatment, depending on the offense

Legal Defenses

The law states that, in order to be convicted of disorderly conduct, the defendant must have willfully engaged in behavior that he or she knew was likely to cause a significant disruption of the peace. This definition allows certain legal strategies to be used to fight breach of the peace charges in court.

For example, a lawyer might argue that the incident that led to the charges did not constitute a significant disruption. Behavior that is merely annoying or embarrassing is not enough for a conviction.

The lawyer may also try to argue that the alleged behavior never took place. In the case of a fight, the lawyer may argue that the defendant did not start the fight and was only engaging in self-defense.

If these arguments are successful, the court may agree to drop the charges or allow the defendant the chance to plead guilty to a lesser offense.

If you’ve been arrested for disturbing the peace in Houston or surrounding areas, contact The Law Office of Greg Tsioros. We can help protect your rights and preserve your freedom. Call 832-752-5972 or email today for a free, confidential consultation.

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