The freedoms guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the Constitution, such as Freedom of Speech and Freedom to Assemble Peaceably, extend only to the point that they don't interfere with the freedoms of others, such as the freedom to conduct business.
As a balancing point, California makes it a crime to interfere with or obstruct a business establishment, particularly after being asked to leave. This statute is embodied in Penal Code 602.1 PC. Violating this law is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $400.
Simply put, It's a crime to intentionally interfere with or obstruct a public business establishment after being asked to leave the premises.
PC 601.2 says, ”(a) Any person who intentionally interferes with any lawful business or occupation carried on by the owner or agent of a business establishment open to the public, by obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business, or their customers, and who refuses to leave the premises of the business establishment after being requested to leave by the owner or the owner's agent, or by a peace officer acting at the request of the owner or owner's agent, is guilty of a misdemeanor….”
To prove a defendant guilty of interfering or obstructing a public business establishment, a prosecutor must be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, several elements of the crimes discussed below. Let's review the state law in more detail below.
PC 602.1 Explained
PC 602.1 makes it a crime to intentionally interfere with any lawful business or occupation carried on by the owner of a business establishment open to the public.
This can occur by obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business or their customers and refusing to leave the premises after being asked by the owner, the owner's agent, or a police officer.
Most violations of this law tend to occur in the context of peaceful protests or free speech expressions, often as an example of "civil disobedience."
However, one can violate this law by any willful interference or obstruction hindering the business from operating peaceably.
For purposes of this law, a public business establishment is any commercial or non-commercial entity that serves the public and is open to the public. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Movie theaters;
- Doctor's offices;
- Abortion clinics;
To convict you of this crime, prosecutors must establish the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You interfered with or obstructed the lawful business operations of a public business establishment;
- You did so intentionally;
- You did so by obstructing or intimidating those attempting to conduct business or their customers; and
- You refused to leave the premises after being asked to do so by the owner of the business, their representative, or a peace officer.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: David is part of a group of activists who stage a protest outside a department store for selling furs. The group begins physically blocking the entrance and shouting jeers at patrons attempting to enter the store.
The department store manager calls the police to break up the gathering, but David and his friends refuse to leave. As a result, David and the entire group can be charged under PC 602.1.
EXAMPLE 2: Jenny has an angry dispute with a retail store because they won't accept her return of a damaged item. Jenny begins blocking the cash register and yelling to the customers, "Don't do business with these cheats!" and ignores the manager's request that she leave the store. As a result, Jenny can be charged under PC 602.1.
EXAMPLE 3: A pro-life group protests peacefully outside an abortion clinic. They convene across the street from the clinic and wave signs but do not interfere with or interact with patients entering or leaving the clinic.
The clinic administrators ask them to leave because they are annoyed and afraid they are discouraging patients. Still, the group calmly states they exercise their right to free speech and peaceful assembly. The group is not guilty under PC 602.1 PC, even after being asked to leave, because they are not interfering with the clinic and are not on the premises.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Several California laws are related to Penal Code 601.2 PC obstructing a public business establishment, such as the following:
- Penal Code 602 PC - trespassing;
- Penal Code 601 PC – aggravated trespassing;
- Penal Code 408 PC – unlawful assembly;
- Penal Code 409 PC – refusal to disperse;
- Penal Code 169 PC – picketing near a court;
- Penal Code 415 PC – disturbing the peace;
- Penal Code 148 PC – resisting arrest.
What Are the Penalties for PC 601.2?
Violating PC 602.1 is a misdemeanor offense, with a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and up to $400 in fines if convicted. However, the judge can weigh the circumstances of the case and issue summary probation as an alternative to jail time.
What Are the Defenses for PC 601.2?
Suppose you're charged with interfering with or obstructing a public business establishment. In that case, there are several defenses your California criminal lawyer can raise, depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you had no intent to obstruct lawful business operations. Maybe you were protesting or exercising your free speech rights, but any interference with customers was incidental.
Perhaps we can argue that your conduct did not rise to the level of obstruction or intimidation. For example, standing outside a business or holding a sign does not constitute obstruction. If your attorney can show your actions were docile and not intimidating, you may be able to get the charges dismissed.
Perhaps we can argue that you were not asked to leave. One stipulation required to obtain a conviction is that you refused to leave when requested. If no such request was made, you're not guilty of PC 602.1, even if you were interfering with business operations.
Perhaps we can argue that you left when requested to do so. But, again, you can't be convicted under PC 602.1 if you left upon request—even if you were obstructing while present.
Perhaps we can argue that you were exercising your First Amendment rights. If you are not actively or intentionally obstructing business operations or violating other laws, you can't be convicted under PC 602.1 just for staging a peaceful protest.
If charged with violating Penal Code 602.1 PC, you can contact our law firm by phone or contact form to review the case details and legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.