Q. My apartment complex permits pets. A few weeks ago a few of my neighbors complained to the landlord about the noise coming from my apartment. One neighbor went as far as calling the police on me!
My dog’s behavior has been aggressive at night and sometimes he barks in the evening hours. When the police showed up at my apartment, I was in the process of leaving for work when they arrived. I told them I could not speak with them at that moment because I would be late for work. We got into an argument, I used some foul language and the next thing I know I was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. What are the penalties and can I get this off my record?
A. Disturbing the peace is a law against public disorder and chaos, especially if such conduct can induce or lead to violence. Getting into an argument with the police can easily turn into a disturbing the peace and/or a criminal assault case. In your case, you may be facing two separate charges: one offense for disturbing the peace resulting from your dogs late night barking, the other for being aggressive and arguing with the police which can lead to an assault on an officer charge which is a serious offense.
The Barking Dog – Noise Law
Most city ordinances include noise laws, the purpose of which prohibits excessive levels of noise usually coming from your place of residence or apartment. When a person’s words, music, pets or conduct effect the rights of others to the quiet enjoyment of their property, you may be held criminally liable for disturbing the peace.
Disturbing the peace is not a felony. It is usually charged as a misdemeanor. The penalty is usually punishable by a fine and probation in lieu of county jail. Many times the defendant in these kinds of cases will be eligible for diversion, a type of suspended sentence, which allows you to complete a course, undergo a short period of probation, and then on the motion of your lawyer, the case is dismissed assuming you have satisfactorily completed the terms of the diversion program. If you are eligible for diversion your lawyer will likely advise you to take it. Once successfully completed, the offense will not go on your official record.
Arguing With The Police
Disturbing the peace can also refer to conduct that risks the safety of others, especially if your conduct was perceived by the police as challenging their own authority. By law, the police had every right to stop and briefly detain you because of the multiple complaints of noise coming from your apartment.
If you became aggressive or used foul language that was directed at them, the police had every right to arrest you for not only disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, but also, for assault on a police officer. You are fortunate for not having been charged with assault on a police officer, since these types of offenses are often often charged as a felony and carries severe penalties.
Disturbing The Peace – What Prosecutor Must Prove
The prosecutor will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your conduct was willful. It is usually insufficient that your conduct was merely annoying or embarrassing to others.
The court or jury will usually look to the totality of the circumstances involved in determining your guilt or innocence. Sometimes, if your conduct was not itself violent, but was reasonably believed that it could have induced or incited violence, you may be found criminally liable for disturbing the peace.
Penalties and Punishment – Worse Case Scenario
In most states, a person charged with disturbing the peace may face jail time of up to 90 days and/or fines of up to $800. However, if you do not have a criminal record it is highly unlikely, that if convicted, you would be incarcerated. It is far more likely that you will enter a plea bargain, pay a fine and be required to attend anger management classes. If you are really fortunate, you may be offered diversion as discussed above.