What is Breach of the Peace?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A breach or disturbance of the peace is an activity in a public place that might reasonably be expected to disturb or upset others. Breach of the peace is generally treated as a misdemeanor, and sometimes the person committing it will only be given a warning, asking that he or she cease the activity in the interests of keeping public order. Many nations have laws pertaining to such disturbances on their books, and they are interpreted and used in different ways.

Loud or obnoxious behavior could be considered a breach of the peace.
Loud or obnoxious behavior could be considered a breach of the peace.

The idea of a breach of the peace comes from Commonwealth nations where there is a monarch. Historically, the King or Queen's peace was a right that was supposedly extended to all citizens living in the monarchy; disturbances of the peace were regarded as a disturbance of the monarch, as well as an offense to the dignity of the nation. In several monarchies, these laws are actually quite strict, as seen in the Public Order Acts used in Britain to suppress a variety of activities.

Severe instances of breaching the peace may lead to an arrest by law enforcement officers.
Severe instances of breaching the peace may lead to an arrest by law enforcement officers.

Things which might be considered a breach of the peace can include getting into fights, singing loudly, being drunk and disorderly, and engaging in other loud or disruptive behavior. In some nations, it must constitute a threat of some kind; beyond simply being upsetting, it must be something that causes people to fear for their safety. In others, generally loud, disruptive, or obnoxious behavior may be grounds for a warning or arrest by law enforcement officers, who are charged, among other things, with keeping the peace.

In some cases, breach of the peace laws can be used to quell demonstrations that do not have permits. The argument here is that when a march is permitted, the community has time to prepare, and the event is not considered a legal disturbance because it is occurring by arrangement. A spontaneous or unpermitted demonstration, however, might pose a threat to safety and comfort, and thus could be disbanded under breach of the peace laws, depending on the nation.

In some cases, someone who is disturbing the peace may be taken into custody. This is often done when there are safety concerns, as for example when someone who is intoxicated is wandering in the street. People can also be fined or ordered to do public service as a penalty for breaching the peace, with such punishments usually occurring after multiple warnings have been given.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Emilski - Tell me if I am wrong but could that not be considered profiling and to be totally honest illegal tactics in order to just arrest someone?

I know someone that although they did drink underage at college, they only had a couple beers, but because it was a college town they were randomly stopped while walking down the sidewalk. The police demanded he take a breathalyzer because they were testing people at random.

This guy, not knowing that he could refuse or demand to know why he was being asked to, did it, blew a .03, and was sent to jail and charged not just with underage drinking, but also public drunkenness and disturbing the peace.

After consulting a lawyer it was determined that what the police did was illegal and the charges were dropped because they followed procedure wrong and could not just randomly stop people like that walking down a street.

I am just wondering how police in other college towns get away with doing this as at least in this one case it was considered illegal to profile in such a way and harass citizens like this and say they were disturbing the peace because they had a minute amount of alcohol in their system.


@titans62 - I have to say that as far as police officers go I have noticed that the police arresting people for disturbing the peace varies depending where one is at and the tendency of the local police department to arrest people for simply being obnoxious and disturbing the peace.

I have noticed in my travels that the police tend to arrest people more in college towns and be more watchful of people disturbing the peace and arrest far more people in college towns for doing so as opposed in other places.

As a former college student, it was well known you always had to be watchful coming back from bars or parties, because police would always be on the lookout to arrest people for public intoxication or for "disturbing the peace." Usually they would simply stop people walking down the street and demand a breathalyzer to people at random and if they blew above a .08 they would arrest them for public intoxication and disturbing the peace.


@JimmyT - That is an excellent question. Most of the time police officers will arrest someone for their own good for reasons that go along with disturbing the peace.

One example of such is say someone is publicly intoxicated and the police are worried they make walk down the street and walk right into a car by accident. They are disturbing the peace in this regard and they are arrested for their own safety and for the safety of the drivers that happen to drive by.

As far as someone being too loud, I see that as being a judgment call on the police officer's part and it may come down to a matter of interpretation and how far a police officer wants to go as far as interpreting the law by the book.


I have heard of disturbing the peace and have always wondered exactly what the consequences are for doing so, and exactly how far someone has to go in order to be charged with a breach of peace.

I live in a college town and there is always a lot of partying and loudness going on very late in the evening and I always see police cruisers stop by to tell them to be quiet, but I never see anyone get arrested unless there is underage drinking going on or they happen to find drugs where they are at.

I am wondering how far someone has to go in order to be charged with disturbing the peace and whether or not the cops have a certain level of tolerance they must abide by in order to arrest someone.

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