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breach of the peace

any of three distinct types of legal offense. In its broadest sense, the term is synonymous with crime itself and means an indictable offense. In another and more common sense, however, the phrase includes only those crimes that are punishable primarily because of their disrupting effect upon the peace and security of the community. Among these offenses are affray, unlawful assembly, riot, forcible entry and detainer, disturbance of public assemblies, keeping a disorderly house, and malicious mischief. In its third and narrowest meaning, the phrase is confined to willful conduct that does not fall within the definition of any other specific crime but that unreasonably disrupts the public tranquillity or has a strong tendency to cause a disturbance. In common law, and under many statutes, such a disturbance or breach of peace is punishable as a misdemeanour.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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