California Disturbing the Peace Law - PC 415
Disturbing the peace law is covered under California Penal Code Section 415. Most people have heard of the infamous term “disturbing the peace,” but many don’t know the exact meaning under the law or the legal consequences.
This law covers a variety of public disruptive activities, including loud verbal arguments, challenging another individual to fight, unlawful fighting, unreasonable loud noise violations, and using offensive words that are likely to provoke and immediate violent reaction.
In order to be in violation of PC 415, you must be in a public place, which is any location that is open to the public. This could include a wide variety of places, including a parking lot, park, grocery store, bar, shopping mall, sidewalk, sports stadium, among many other locations.
Due to the vague definition and elements of this crime, it’s pretty easy to get charged with disturbing the peace in Los Angeles County. A common example includes a situation where two intoxicated men inside a bar start arguing after bumping into each other. One man challenges the other to a fight outside in the parking lot. He could be prosecuted for disturbing the peace because he challenged the other to a fight in a public place.
Another example includes a situation where one person approaches another in a public place and calls them a racial slur, which results in an immediate fight. The person who used the offensive words could be charged with disturbing the peace because they used words that were likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.
While disturbing the peace is a criminal offense by itself, people familiar with the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County know it’s commonly used as a plea bargaining tool. Many Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will request a disturbing the peace charge in an attempt to negotiate a reduced charge for their clients. For example, charges of criminal threats, public intoxication, and trespassing are often resolved for a simple charge of disturbing the peace.
If you or a family member has been charged with disturbing the peace, in violation of PC 415, you should consult with a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Eisner Gorin LLP. Retaining the right attorney can often mean the difference between getting your case dismissed and suffering the legal consequences of a conviction. Now that we have discussed the basic terminology of disturbing the peace above, let’s now take a look at the legal definition below.
California Penal Code Section 415 – Disturbing the Peace
Under California Penal Code Section 415, the legal definition of disturbing the peace is described by three main categories of conduct. These include:
- Any person who unlawfully fights in a public place or challenges another person to fight in a public place.
- Any person who willfully and maliciously disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.
- Any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.
In each variation of a disturbing the peace offense, the prosecutor has to prove each element of the crime. For example, to prove you disturbed the peace by fighting or challenging another person to fight, they must prove you unlawfully fought or challenged someone to fight in a public place and were not acting in self defense or defense of others.
Under California law, you can reasonably defend yourself or another person if you have a reasonable belief you or another person was about to suffer bodily harm. You must also reasonably believe force was the only way to protect yourself against the harm and you used no more force than necessary to defend yourself against the danger.
Under PC 415, the legal definition of what it means for noise to disturb another person, the noise needs have been used maliciously to disturb another person, presented a danger of immediate violence, or used on purpose to disrupt lawful activity.
Finally, the legal definition of disturbing the peace with offensive words means you used words in public that were likely to provoke a violent response from someone and there was a clear and present danger the other person would erupt into violence. Criminal courts will typically determine what qualifies as "offensive words" on a case by case basis.
However, words that may seem profane, rude, or disrespectful don’t always qualify for prosecution for disturbing the peace. Consult with a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at our law frim for more information.
Legal Penalties for a Disturbing the Peace Conviction
Under California Penal Section 415, disturbing the peace is a “wobbler,” meaning it can be pursued as either an infraction or a misdemeanor crime. The prosecutor will typically decide how to file a disturbing the peace case based on the specific circumstances of the case and your past criminal history.
Disturbing the peace as an infraction will carry a fine of up to $250. If you are convicted of disturbing the peace as a misdemeanor offense, the legal penalties can include up to three months in a county jail and a fine of up to $400.
If you are convicted of disturbing the peace on school grounds, under California Penal Code Section 415.5, the penalties could include a maximum 90 day sentence in county jail and a maximum $400 fine.
Legal Defenses against Disturbing the Peace Charges
An experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Eisner Gorin LLP can use a variety of legal defenses on your behalf against charges of disturbing the peace. These defenses include:
- No required intent – Our criminal lawyers may be able to prove you did not act maliciously or willfully to incite violence.
- Self defense – In disturbing the peace based on fighting, you can't be guilty if you were just defending yourself or another person. Our attorneys may be able to prove you believed you were about to be harmed, were forced to defend yourself, and did not use more force than reasonably necessary.
- Words were constitutionally protected – If the words you used were protected by your right to free speech, under the First Amendment, you can’t be guilty of disturbing the peace.
- False accusation – Our law firm has seen cases where our clients were simply falsely accused of disturbing the peace. A common example in Los Angeles County includes situations where police officers didn’t like your attitude or how you talked to them and were looking for a reason to charge you with something.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you or a family member has been charged with disturbing the peace, it’s important to call a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at Eisner Gorin LLP. A conviction can have a lasting impact on your future.
Our law firm may be able to successfully negotiate your disturbing the peace charges to avoid a conviction. Each case is prosecuted based on a wide range of factors. Our law firm will closely examine the specifics details of your case in order to determine best available options. Call our law office at 877-781-1570.