Disturbing the Peace
Charges in California
- Penal Code §415-
Disturbing the Peace - PC 415
The phrase “disturbing the peace” is familiar to most people, however, many don’t know that disturbing the peace is a criminal offense.
In California, there are a number of activities that have been criminalized for being too disruptive for the public. Together, the activities are grouped into a single criminal charge known as “disturbing the peace”.
The following information is only intended to provide a general understanding of the crime of disturbing the peace in California.
However, it is always recommended that someone charged with violating penal code section 415 contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. as soon as possible.
1. What is considered disturbing the peace in California?
Disturbing the peace is criminalized pursuant to penal code section 415 (aka PC 415, P.C. 415, and police code 415). Section 415 criminalizes three very distinct activities; (1) playing loud music or making unreasonably loud noise, (2) fighting someone in public, and (3) using offensive words.
Disturbing the peace can be charged as either a misdemeanor offense or an infraction. The penalties and consequences for disturbing the peace will vary depending on the severity of the charge.
Although disturbing the peace is not as serious as other criminal offenses, a criminal charge for violating penal code section 415 should never be taken lightly. As you will see, the consequences for disturbing the peace can even include jail time.
Penal Code §415 States:
Any of the following persons shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than 90 days, a fine of not more than four hundred dollars ($400), or both such imprisonment and fine:
(1) Any person who unlawfully fights in a public place or challenges another person in a public place to fight.
(2) Any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.
(3) Any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.
2. What are the elements of disturbing the peace in California?
Before anyone can be found guilty of a crime, the prosecutor (either a District Attorney or a City Attorney in Orange County) must prove all the essential components of the crime. The essential components of the crime are called the “elements” of the crime. The prosecutor must prove all of the elements beyond a reasonable doubt.
Pursuant to penal code section 415, the crime of disturbing the peace is separated into three distinct subsections for the respective activity being criminalized. Therefore, the prosecutor has three separate ways of proving someone violated penal code section 415.
Penal Code §415(1) – Fighting in Public
To be found guilty of disturbing the peace for fighting or challenging someone to fight the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
The defendant willfully fought or challenged someone to fight;
The fight or the challenge to fight was made while the defendant was in a public place; AND
The defendant was not acting in self-defense at the time.
Self-defense – A person is not guilty of disturbing the peace for fighting if they were acting in self-defense. A person acts in self-defense whenever they reasonably believe it is necessary to use force to protect themself from bodily injury.
Penal code §415 prohibits unlawfully fighting someone in public.
It is important to note that you are only entitled to use reasonable force to protect yourself. Thus, you are not entitled to beat someone up because the other person poked you in the chest.
Penal Code §415(2) – Loud and Unreasonable Noise
To be found guilty of disturbing the peace for loud and unreasonable noise the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
The defendant willfully and maliciously disturbed another person; AND
The defendant did so by making loud and unreasonable noise.
Maliciously – Not only does the person have to act purposely in making the loud and unreasonable noise, but they must also act in a malicious manner. A person acts maliciously when they intentionally do a wrongful act or when they intentionally try to annoy or injure someone else.
Disturb Another Person – Additionally, there must be evidence that someone was disturbed by the loud and unreasonable noise. This actually requires more than one would think. To prove the perpetrator disturbed another person there must be (1) a clear and present danger of immediate violence or (2) the noise was used for the purpose of disrupting lawful activities.
Penal Code §415(3) – Using Offensive Language
To be found guilty of disturbing the peace for using offensive language the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
The defendant used offensive words that were inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction; AND
The defendant was in a public place at the time they made the statement.
Inherently Likely to Provoke Violence – Words are likely to provoke a violent response when there is a clear and present danger that the other person will immediately erupt into anger. That said, the other person doesn’t actually have to violently erupt.
Remember, the prosecutor only has to prove the elements of one of the subsections in order for the defendant to be convicted of disturbing the peace.
3. What are the penalties for disturbing the peace?
The penalties for disturbing the peace depend on the severity of the charge. Ordinarily, disturbing the peace is prosecuted as a misdemeanor.
Misdemeanor Penalties for Disturbing the Peace –
The maximum penalty for misdemeanor disturbing the peace in violation of penal code section 415 is:
Up to 90-days imprisonment in the county jail;
A fine of up to $400; OR
Both that fine and imprisonment.
IMPORTANT: The court will add a penalty assessment charge to any fine that is imposed as a result of a conviction for disturbing the peace. The total cost after penalty assessment is added to a fine of $400 is approximately $1,700.
A judge can also order that the defendant be imprisoned in jail as a condition of the defendant's probation.
Occasionally, charges for disturbing the peace are filed as a criminal infraction violation. If that is the case, then the penalty for disturbing the peace is a fine of up to $250. The total fine after penalty assessment is added to the fine of $250 is approximately $1,160.
4. Will a conviction for disturbing the peace go on my record?
Yes, any person found guilty of disturbing the peace will have a criminal record. Even just an arrest or citation for disturbing the peace can create a criminal record that lists the date of the incident and the alleged charge.
A criminal record, sometimes called a RAP (records of arrest and prosecution) sheet is a formal list of prior arrests and convictions. In California these records are maintained by the state’s department of justice.
While the law provides that access to criminal records maintained by the DOJ is limited to legitimate law enforcement purposes and authorized applicants, criminal records can have far greater consequences. A criminal record can sometimes prevent or limit your ability to find housing or employment depending on the record.
It is always best to avoid a criminal conviction, if possible. However, a conviction for disturbing the peace is eligible for expungement pursuant to penal code section 1203.4 (PC 1203.4).
Moreover, the records of the arrest or citation can be sealed pursuant to penal code section 851.91 (PC 851.91) later down the road, if necessary. Click here to learn more about how to clean your criminal record in California.
5. What are some common defenses to charges for disturbing the peace?
There are many defenses a good criminal lawyer can use to defend some accused of disturbing the peace.
No Criminal Intent –
As mentioned above, a person must be acting with malicious intent to be criminally liable for making unreasonable noise. This requires that the person act purposely to annoy the alleged victim.
For example, a person hosting a party at their home would not be guilty of disturbing the peace for playing loud music because they were not playing the music to annoy or bother anyone.
A person is not guilty of disturbing the peace for fighting in a public place if the person was acting in self-defense or defense of someone else.
The two most important rules to this defense are that the person must reasonably believe that they are going to suffer physical injury unless they defend themself and the person must only use force reasonably necessary to prevent the injury.
Judicial Diversion –
Even if you are certain you’re guilty of disturbing the peace, you should never plead guilty before considering all your options. One very helpful option when facing charges for disturbing the peace is judicial diversion pursuant to penal code section 1001.95.
Judicial diversion allows a judge to pause the criminal proceedings against the defendant. While the case is paused, the judge will order the person to complete certain tasks and comply with certain terms.
If the person successfully completes all of the terms and tasks, then the judge is required to dismiss the case.
Judicial diversion is normally reserved for people with little to no criminal history. The law is aimed at helping defendants avoid the collateral consequences of a criminal record. Visit the dedicated judicial diversion page to learn more about how judicial diversion can help you
Tasks often include some form of community service or community labor.
It is important to remember that every situation is different. If you or someone you love has been charged with disturbing the peace for violating penal code section 415, it is always best to contact an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer.
Contact An Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer
John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan is a trusted Orange County criminal defense lawyer that prides himself on his ability to communicate with clients as he helps them navigate our complex criminal justice system.
Attorney Mullen-Lujan was named one of the Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Orange and Newport Beach. Hire an attorney you can trust and who can provide the zealous advocacy you need.
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