What is Disturbing the Peace?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Disturbing the peace tends to mean creating some type of noise that is bothersome to most people. Examples of this could include playing music extremely loudly, usually after 9 or 10 PM, or running equipment that makes very loud noises. The charge may fall under the umbrella of a group of charges called disorderly conduct or it could be considered separately. Exactly how the charge is considered tends to depend on each jurisdiction, but in many of them, this is a crime at the misdemeanor level, subject to at least fines and possibly jail time, though the latter is rare.

Disturbing the peace may result in jail time.
Disturbing the peace may result in jail time.

People have different tolerance levels for noise and police called out to deal with a disturbing the peace case may need to decide if a person’s conduct is really bothering many people, or only bothering one individual who complained. This may make a difference in how and whether charges are filed. When someone does complain of another person’s repeated conduct that they find disturbs the peace, even if no arrest occurs, or no charges are brought, it’s sometimes possible to sue people in civil court. This may be expensive and isn’t always winnable, particularly if the person bringing the charge has a very low tolerance for noise.

Although rare, jail time is one possible consequence for disturbing the peace.
Although rare, jail time is one possible consequence for disturbing the peace.

Additionally, many times if police do respond to allegations that someone is disturbing the peace they won’t immediately cite the person. A loud party going on next door might not end with a charge of disturbing the piece. Alternately, it could end with police breaking up the party, asking everyone to leave and issuing a strong warning. Tolerance of this nature may wear thin if the same people throw loud parties every weekend, and in these cases the police could consider citing the homeowners.

A charge of disturbing the peace remains on most people's criminal records.
A charge of disturbing the peace remains on most people's criminal records.

When someone is disturbing the peace, they’re violating not just the eardrums of others but a concept held dear in many societies. This is that people depend on a definition of public peace or order, and when people step outside of that definition, they make it difficult for others to peacefully go about their business. It’s possible to get a charge for loudly swearing in public because this offends some people and takes away their peace and comfort in being part of the society. These laws are really designed to promote manners so that all people maintain a minimum amount of good behavior toward each other.

Even if the law is mostly about manners, it’s no joke to get a disturbing the peace charge. It can cost money, might result in jail time, and remains on most people’s criminal records. There is a real consequence for stepping outside these “public manners” laws, and having to claim an arrest and criminal charge, even if a misdemeanor, can damage reputation, and chances for employment.

Disturbing the peace may include someone playing music at extreme loudness levels.
Disturbing the peace may include someone playing music at extreme loudness levels.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Is it disturbing the peace if my neighbors are shooting guns and a couple of times blowing things up? It's very loud and I am tired of it so if anyone knows please tell me. (I live in the county not sure if that matters.)


I am so sick of the attitude that people demonstrating very loud and disruptive behaviors are "normal" or "just having fun," and that those who are quiet, sensitive, and do not annoy those around them are in the wrong --or as one poster infers, not legitimate, if we call in a complaint against those who are responsible for the disturbance.

I am (by genetics) extremely sensitive to environmental conditions, and I have always chosen my living situations carefully to avoid disturbing neighborhood environments as much as possible. There is no reason why my right to a peaceful home environment should be dismissed in such a cavalier manner!


we have very noisy neighbours who are about 16 to 19 and tend to have parties most nigth when the main kid's dad is at work.

It is horrendously annoying and we struggle to sleep sometimes as they play music, they scream, they shout, they swear and they play football right outside the window.

We can't shut the window because the room gets too hot even without the heaters on so it is not an option, but even when we called the police in the past in the early stages of the partying development, nearly nothing was done.

they are nice neighbours but when they do it most nights it gets infuriating and they've even done it when our other neighbours had a new born baby who couldn't sleep. i won't step outside because, although the main kid is nice, the other can be very aggressive and verbally abusive.


My neighbors have loud parties every weekend and they are outside on the side of my house. I just got new windows and I can't even open them because these neighbors are so loud. He is a fireman so he knows all the police in town. I feel like if I complained to the police, they wouldn't do anything. What to do?


In addition to neighbourhood issues with disturbing the peace, a situation in which it becomes a more tricky problem is in college dormitories. Many colleges and universities, whether public or private, dry (banning alcohol) or wet (allowing alcohol), have some rule about the violation of noise, often basing this on the article's mention of a need for a semblance of society and order. Unfortunately, it is sometimes much harder in a dormitory to figure out if someone complaining is legitimate or just someone with sensitive hearing; it can also be difficult to tell who the noisy person was, and to make sure they quiet down. I worked in residence life at school for two years, and that was one of the parts of the job I liked the least.


The use and enforcement of disturbing the peace laws is often used by local police in efforts to deter a variety of human behavior that is disturbing to others. One of the most obvious examples of this is the breaking up of under-aged drinking parties. Officers will use the laws to then enter a home of the suspected party under the auspice that the activity is disturbing the peace.

While this seems like a good thing that we should empower the local police to do, I believe that there might be too much interpretation left up to the officer to determine and judge what is "disturbing the police." If we take that into consideration, we are asking to much of the officer and there presents a problem with the separation of the three branches of government.

I hope that we have strong and specific policies to police our officers and guide them to the proper application of the law. There is a reason that we have differences in the judicial and executive branches.

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