disturbing the peace

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Disturbing the peace, also referred to as breach of the peace, is when a person disturbs peace and tranquility in a public space. Every state has a different law defining what constitutes disturbing the peace and the penalties the offender will face. The Supreme Court ruled in Cox v. Louisiana, that state laws defining breach of the peace can’t be too overboard and vague as to only criminalize unpopular views. In general, disturbing the peace includes making excessive noises, promoting violence, and large crowds congregating in a public space. 

California Penal Code Section 415 defines disturbing the peace as 1) fighting someone or challenging someone to a fight in a public place, 2) excessive noises, and 3) using fighting words in a public place that is likely to start a confrontation. A violation of the law can result in an infraction with a fine up to $200 or a misdemeanor charge. If a person is convicted of the misdemeanor, they can face up to three months in jail and up to a $400 fine. The statute also provides for additional punishment if the offense occurred on school grounds, and the offender is not a student or employee of the school. 

[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]