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Wearing a Mask or Disguise to Evade Police - Penal Code 185 PC

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Aug 25, 2022

When we see the depiction of a crime on television, we almost expect the criminal to wear a disguise or mask to avoid being identified and captured. But in the real-world state of California, doing so is a distinct and separate crime.

Penal Code 185 PC makes it illegal to put on a mask, false whiskers, or another disguise to evade police while or after committing the crime.

Wearing a Mask or Disguise to Evade Police - Penal Code 185
It's a crime under Penal Code 185 PC to wear a mask or disguise to evade the police.

While wearing masks or disguises is not usually unlawful, if somebody wears one to avoid being detected by law enforcement, they could be charged with a crime under PC 185. It's also a crime for someone to wear a mask to escape after being charged with, arrested for, or convicted of a crime.

To prove that someone is guilty of wearing a mask or disguise to evade police, a prosecutor must prove all the crime's elements. These include that you wore a mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise to evade discovery, and it was in the commission of a public offense.

Penal Code 185 PC says: “It's unlawful for anyone to wear any mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise (whether complete or partial) to evade or escape discovery, recognition, or identification in the commission of any public offense, or concealment, flight, or escape, when charged with, arrested for or convicted of any public offense.”  

If convicted of this offense, you could face six months in county jail and any sentence incurred by the initial crime. Our California criminal defense attorneys will review this law further below.

Overview of PC 185

According to PC 185, it is illegal to put on a "mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise (whether complete or partial)" for either of the following purposes:

  • To conceal your identity or avoid discovery during or after the commission of a crime; OR
  • As a means of hiding or escaping after being arrested for, charged with, or convicted of a crime.

The intent is critical in proving this crime because it is not illegal to wear a mask or disguise under normal circumstances. False whiskers mean a disguise, such as a fake beard or mustache.

To prove that you are guilty of wearing a mask or disguise to evade police under PC 185, the prosecution must show that you did so with the specific intent to avoid being recognized or apprehended.

It's also important to know that this crime hinges on the commission of another crime. Suppose you are charged with wearing a mask or disguise to evade police but are ultimately acquitted of the original charges. In that case, you cannot be convicted under PC 185 because if you didn't commit the initial crime, you couldn't have been wearing the disguise to avoid the police.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Adrian commits armed robbery of a convenience store. To avoid being identified by the security cameras, he dons a ski mask before entering the store. Adrian is guilty under PC 185 because he wore the mask to avoid being identified while committing the crime.

Penalties for Penal Code 185 PC
A PC 185 conviction carries jail time and a fine.

EXAMPLE 2: Jessica shoplifts a dress from a local mall store. Immediately after, she ducks into the bathroom and puts on a wig and sunglasses to change her appearance so she can leave the mall undetected. Jessica is guilty under PC 185 because she put on the disguise to evade capture.

EXAMPLE 3: George is arrested for DUI and taken to the police station. While at the station, he finds a construction worker's hard hat and puts it on his head in an attempt to escape while the officers are occupied with processing his paperwork.

George is guilty under PC 185 because he put on the disguise after being arrested to avoid detection.

EXAMPLE 4: Tom assaults a man in a restaurant, then leaves to go to a masquerade party. He puts on a fake mustache as part of his costume. Tom is NOT guilty under PC 185 because he wasn't wearing the false whiskers specifically to evade police.

What Are the Penalties for PC 185?

Violating PC 185 is a misdemeanor offense in California. If you are convicted of this crime, you face:

  • a maximum county jail sentence of 6 months, and
  • fine of up to $1000.

The judge may reduce your sentence to summary probation based on the facts of the case, which may include regular check-ins with a probation officer and completing several hours of community service.

What Are the Related Crimes?

What Are the Common Legal Defenses?

Several defenses can be raised to fight charges of wearing a mask/disguise to evade police. Some of the most common are discussed below.

Perhaps we can argue that you didn't have the specific intent to avoid being apprehended. Remember, the prosecution must prove this is an essential crime element. You cannot be convicted if you doubt whether you put on the disguise for this purpose.

Legal Defenses for Penal Code 185 PC
Contact our criminal defense attorneys for help.

Perhaps you didn't commit the underlying crime. If you were wearing a disguise but were ultimately acquitted of the initial charges, you also cannot be convicted under PC 185.

Perhaps we can argue you weren't wearing a mask or disguise. PC 185 lists masks, false whiskers, and disguises as items used to evade detection and capture.

If you weren't wearing anything that could be construed as a mask, false whiskers, or a disguise, you're not guilty under PC 185. For example, wearing dark sunglasses might not be considered a disguise, especially if the day is bright and sunny.

Perhaps we can negotiate with law enforcement and the prosecution prefiling to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges before the first court date, called a “DA reject.”

If you were charged with violating PC 185, contact us to examine all the details and discuss the legal options. The Los Angeles criminal defense law firm of Eisner Gorin LLP can be reached for an initial case evaluation by phone or by filling out the contact form.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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