Disorderly Conduct/Disturbing the Peace

Many of us have witnessed activity that could be considered "disorderly conduct," or "disturbing the peace," without thinking it could be a jailable offense. Interactions with all sorts of people, even those that some consider disorderly or causing a disturbance, is part of life in a major city like Boston. However, the police can arrest people for these charges as a "crime against good order." Unfortunately, these statutes can be abused, and used to arrest innocent people who are exercising their Constitutional First Amendment rights.

If you have been charged with disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace in Boston, call a lawyer with Dhar Law LLP at 617-391-0592 today.

Disturbing the Peace

Under Massachusetts law, to convict a person for disturbing the peace, the prosecution must prove three things:

  1. The defendant engaged in conduct which most people would find unreasonably disruptive;

  2. the defendant's actions were done intentionally, and no accidental; and

  3. the defendant did annoy or disturb at least one person.

The acts or conduct must be considered unnecessary, voluntary and contrary to normal standards of conduct, with consideration to the specific location and time the conduct took place.

Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly conduct is related to the crime of disturbing the peace, but requires proof of elements. Under Massachusetts law, to convict a person for disorderly conduct, the prosecution must prove three things:

  1. The defendant engaged in fighting, threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior, or created a hazardous or physically offensive condition that served no legitimate purpose;

  2. the defendant's actions were reasonably likely to affect the public; and

  3. the defendant intended to cause, or recklessly created a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm.

Examples of Unreasonably Disruptive Conduct

Unreasonably disruptive conduct could include: making loud and disturbing noises; tumultuous or offensive conduct; throwing objects in a populated area; personal insults that amount to fighting words, or are so offensive that they are likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction. It could also include fighting, threatening to fight or quarrel, or challenging someone to a fight.

Examples of what could be considered disturbing the peace in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts could include any number of activities, such as fighting over a snow-cleared parking space, people fighting at a sporting event, playing music too loud which annoys any neighbors, or calling someone a racial slur that would provoke a fight.

Fighting Words

Fighting words and offensive language are some exceptions to First Amendment free speech protections under the U.S. Constitution. This includes profane, libelous and insulting or fighting words which by simply being said would tend to incite an immediate violent reaction or breach of the peace. Police can overstate the threat created by your speech, which often does not amount to fighting words.

Penalties for Disturbing the Peace or Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly persons or disturbers of the peace will face a possible fine of up to $150 for a first offense. A second or subsequent offense is a misdemeanor, and the penalties include jail time for up to 6 months and a fine of up to $200.

Possible Defenses

Any possible defenses to a charge of disturbing the peace or disorderly will depend on the specific facts and nature of the incident. If you have been charged due to claims of fighting or threatening to fight, some possible defenses include showing that there was a mistake in the identity of the people involved, or that it was necessary to fight in self-defense. If charged with excessive noise, it may be a defense that the defendant should not have known there was another person within earshot.

Often times, charges of disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace can be leveled at people involved in legitimate political protest. Political protest has a legitimate purpose, which is a defense to charges of disturbing the peace. In many other cases, speech which is treated by the police as offensive or threatening is protected under the First Amendment. An experienced Boston area criminal defense lawyer will be able to review the defendant's individual case, investigate the events surrounding the arrest, and discuss the possible defenses and legal strategies.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for disturbing the peace while taking part in a march; or charged with disorderly conduct while involved in a political or social protest, you should not have to plead guilty and risk a future criminal record for your constitutionally protected activities. Just because the police treated you like a criminal does not mean that you committed a crime.

Contact a local, experienced criminal defense lawyer to make sure that your rights are protected. Call 617-391-0592 in Boston today.