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What Justifies Disturbing the Peace?

    Execution of Public Duty

    • Justification for a crime differs from a defense to a crime in that it falls under the category of an "affirmative defense." An affirmative defense effectively amounts to an admittance of guilt but "for good reason." Execution of a public duty is a justification for disturbing the peace. This justification could alleviate guilt for disturbing the peace if the actor was assisting public servants (i.e., firefighters or paramedics) in the performance of their functions, the act was necessary in furtherance of war or legal process, the conduct was authorized by a valid court order or the defendant reasonably believed he was helping the police perform a necessary function of their authority.

    Choice of Evils

    • In some states, "choice of evils" is a justification for committing a crime. This justification involves excusing an otherwise criminal activity due to its necessity in an emergency situation. The emergency must be one that is imminently threatening to a private individual or the public at large. In order to invoke this affirmative defense, the imminent threat must not have been caused by the defendant himself, but by some other outside source. The imminent threat must also be so great that it clearly outweighs the commission of the crime. For example, it may be a justification to disturb the peace if it is necessary to save the public from impending severe weather.


    • Self-protection is a justification for the crime of disturbing the peace if the defendant reasonably believed that he had to commit the crime to protect himself against the use of unlawful force by another person. This justification does not apply to resisting arrest or any other lawful act by the police. A defendant may also be excused from the crime of disturbing the peace if his actions were in protection of others. In most jurisdictions, the defendant would be permitted to commit a crime to defend others in any situation where, if he himself were facing the same circumstances as the third party, he would have been permitted to use self-protective measures.

    Special Relationships

    • Disturbing the peace may also be justified if the defendant was in a "special relationship" with someone at the time of the crime and needed to act to protect that person. A defendant in a parental, foster parental, custodial or guardianship relationship with a child may be justified in acting in furtherance of protecting the child or ward. Teachers may act to protect their pupils in many jurisdictions. Defendants with a caretaking responsibility towards another individual may act to protect that individual if necessary. This could include wardens of correctional institutions, therapists, pilots, captains of ships or mass transit conductors. Every state lists its own set of special relationships recognized under the law.

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