breach of the peace | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Breach of the peace is a criminal offense that involves actions likely to cause a disturbance or disruption of public order, such as fighting or loud noise.

A breach of the peace is a criminal offense that refers to any act or conduct that is likely to cause a disturbance or disruption of public order. This can include a range of actions, such as fighting, making loud noises, threatening others, or behaving in a way that is likely to cause alarm or fear in others.

A breach of the peace is generally considered to be a relatively minor offense, and it is often punishable by a fine or a short term of imprisonment. However, the specific consequences for a breach of the peace can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the offense. In some cases, individuals who commit a breach of the peace may be required to participate in community service or attend counseling or therapy as part of their sentence.

One of the key features of this offense is that it does not require any actual harm to be caused to another person or property. Instead, the offense focuses on the potential for harm or disturbance to occur. This means that an individual can be charged with it even if no one is actually harmed as a result of their actions.

Breach of the peace is a common offense in many jurisdictions, and it is often used in situations where other offenses do not apply. For example, if someone is causing a disturbance in a public place but is not engaging in specific criminal conduct such as assault or vandalism, they may be charged with a breach of the peace. This allows law enforcement to address disruptive behavior and maintain public order even when no other specific laws have been broken.

However, the use of breach of the peace as a “catch-all” offense can be controversial. Critics argue that it can be used to unfairly target certain groups or individuals and that it allows law enforcement to criminalize behavior that may not be clearly criminal under other laws. In some cases, the use of breach of the peace has been challenged on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment right to free speech and assembly.

There is a lot of variability in modern statutes concerning this offense. The Model Penal Code (MPC) does mention the offense of breach of the peace. The MPC defines a breach of the peace as “an offense against public order” and notes that it can include a range of conduct, such as “disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and similar offenses.” The MPC does not provide a specific definition or elements for it, but instead leaves it up to individual states to define and classify the offense.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/05/2023

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