Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181: Breach of the Peace in the Second Degree
Breach of the peace is one of the most commonly charged crimes in Connecticut. This statute is known as a "catch-all" statute designed to cover a wide range of behaviors and gives the arresting officer lots of discretion on whether to make an arrest.
The standard for what constitutes a breach of the peace in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181 is highly subjective and is often employed in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner. Many of our clients who have been charged with this offense feel like they have been unfairly targeted. Breach of peace in the second degree is so broad it can cover many situations from a bar fight to a domestic violence dispute. This statute also applies to the use of obscene language and gestures so often the application of this statute is in contradiction to the accused rights of freedom of speech under the First Amendment.
This crime is closely related to the crime of disorderly conduct. They share a lot of similar elements. What distinguishes breach of peace in the second degree is that many of the actions prohibited are required to have occurred in a public place while in the crime of disorderly conduct almost acts are prohibited regardless of where they take place. This perhaps explains why disorderly conduct is the crime more frequently charged in domestic violence disputes. However, breach of peace in the second degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181 is still a very commonly charged domestic violence crime. This is because the elements of the crime about physical assaults and threatening to damage someone's personal property can occur anywhere (even in your home). Also, the prohibition against engaging in fighting behavior in a public place often applies to domestic violence situations where couples get into arguments in public.Elements of the Crime Which Must be Established by The Prosecution
To be convicted of breach of peace in the second degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181 the state's attorney has to prove that the defendant acted with the intent to cause "inconvenience, annoyance or alarm" or recklessly creating a risk of the same, engaged in one of the following acts:
- Fighting in a public place;
- Violent or threatening behavior in a public place;
- A physical assault;
- Threaten to commit a crime or damage someone's property;
- Publicly post, exhibit or advertise obscene or offensive materials concerning another person;
- Use obscene or vulgar language or gestures in a public place;
- Create a hazardous or physically offensive condition in a public area.
Several subsections of Connecticut General Statutes §53a-181 are very vague. This statute gives a police officer a lot of discretion about whom to arrest, and often this discretion is employed in a discriminatory and arbitrary manner. Over the last 25 years, we have seen that many actions that police have cited as a breach of peace in the second degree were activities that are constitutionally protected free speech rights of the defendant.
Sometimes, officers use this statute to cut you a slight "break" when you are involved in a fight that would ordinarily be charged as an assault in the third degree and instead charge you with Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181which is a slightly less serious offense.Examples
A man and his girlfriend get into an argument at a restaurant. The argument becomes very heated, and the couple starts yelling profane and vulgar insults at each other. As the argument escalates, the woman throws a glass of wine in the man's face, and the man pushes the woman down onto the ground. A concerned witness calls 911. The responding officers arrest both the man and the woman for breach of peace in the second degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-182. They both could be convicted of breach of peace in the second degree because they were fighting in a public place. This crime would be treated as a domestic violence crime due to the relationship between the parties.
Two neighbors are having a dispute over a common walkway. One neighbor becomes very irritated and tells his neighbor that he is going to pour paint remover on his Porsche. The man could be charged with breach of peace in the second degree in violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181 because he made a threat to commit a crime against his neighbor's property.Related Offenses
- Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-61 – Assault 3rd
- Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-182 – Disorderly Conduct
- Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-21 – Risk of Injury to a Minor
Breach of peace cases covers a wide range of behaviors, and thus there are a lot of different defense strategies that can be utilized to fight these allegations. The consequences of any criminal conviction can have a detrimental effect on your future. Our goal in defending breach of peace allegations is to get the charges dismissed. Often there are two sides to the story, and usually, police arrest people for these kinds of offenses without much evidence to support the allegations.
Since this statute requires the state to prove a metal element of intent or reckless disregard, often a careful review of the facts of the case and witness statements can establish that the accused should not be criminally liable for this offense. The state may have a hard time proving that you acted intentionally, and this can prove to be a weakness in the case against you.
Self-defense is always a valid defense when you have to defend yourself, and many of our clients who have been charged with breach of the peace were defending themselves.
In many situations, police officers arrest both parties in a physical dispute and leave it to the court to sort out who was the primary aggressor.
In many situations, a skilled Connecticut criminal defense attorney can negotiate a favorable resolution of the case and get the state to agree to nolle or drop the charges against you. In other situations, your attorney may be able to convince the prosecutor to reduce this misdemeanor charge down to the non-criminal infraction of creating a public disturbance.
For first time offenders with no criminal record, the resolution of last resort for a minor offense like this is to use to a diversionary program, which would result in a dismissal of the charges against you upon successful completion. One such program is the accelerated rehabilitation program.Penalties
Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-181 is a class C misdemeanor you could face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $500 upon a conviction.Call Breach of Peace in the Second Degree Lawyer Allan F. Friedman!
For more information on defending breach of peace in the second degree allegations and to schedule your free initial consultation, contact Stamford criminal lawyer Allan F. Friedman at the Law Offices of Allan F. Friedman located at 24 Hoyt Street #A, Stamford, CT 06905. Attorney Friedman can be reached 24/7 at (203) 357-5555, or you can contact us online for a prompt response.