Disturbing the peace is a crime that is a pretty broad charge that encompasses multiple different acts. Most people believe they know what disturbing the peace includes but the legal statute for California is,
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.
Understanding Disturbing the Peace Under California Penal Code Section 415
California Penal Code 415. There are three elements applicable to the crime. However, if one is charged with disturbing the peace there are multiple defenses that can have this crime dismissed. Penalties for the crime vary depending on the situation, but the charge at most can be a misdemeanor. Lastly, there are some relevant mitigating factors that are applicable to the charge.
With regards to the elements, only one of the three elements or acts needs to be proven in order for one to be charged with disturbing the peace. To break the crime down further, if one person challenges to fight another person, or does in public place they can be charged with disturbing the peace. Or if someone maliciously and willfully disturbs another person’s peace by a loud and unreasonable noise, they could possibly be charged. The final act that someone could do to be charged would someone who uses offensive words in public to provoke someone to fight them or get a rise of a violent action.
The Unlawful Acts that Would Cause an Arrest for PC 415
The unlawful fighting embodies two key facts that need to have taken place in order to be charged with the crime of disturbing the peace. Those are (1) that you willfully and unlawfully fought another person (or challenged another person to fight), and (2) that the fight or challenge took place in a public place. The element also states that the person charged must have done the act “willfully.” Willfully means on purpose or deliberately. California Pen. Code § 415.5. An example of this would be something like, Victor is sitting at a bar during a football game, and he is a fan of the Los Angeles Rams, Doug walks into the bar and he is a fan of the Oakland Raiders. Victor makes a joke about the Raiders, and Doug tells Victor to go out front and fight him. This would be an example of disturbing the peace because Doug purposely or deliberately challenged Victor to a fight. Also, because this took place in a bar and possibly outside the bar it fulfilled the second element stating that it has to take place at a public place. If the scenario were to happen on private property, like one’s home, it would fail to fulfill the second element and the disturbing the peace charge would not be applicable. In addition, if one had actually fought, instead of the just challenging (as Doug did in the scenario) then all the elements would be fulfilled assuming it occurred outside the bar or another public place. Thus, unlawful fighting means that you willfully and unlawfully fought another person (or challenged another person to fight), and (2) that the fight or challenge took place in a public place.
The second kind of disturbing the peace relates to loud noise and is the more common assumption people think of when they hear “disturbing the peace.” It is defined as, “Any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.” California Penal Code 415. This charge also breaks down into two elements stating that (1) you willfully and maliciously caused loud and unreasonable noise, and (2) that the noise disturbed another person. Willful is present again in this element, as it was up above, it has the same meaning of purposely or deliberately. However, this time “maliciously” is also joined in this element. Maliciously also is required and it is defined as, “Intended to something wrongful, or intended to injure or annoy someone else.” California Pen. Code § 415.5. In addition, we will need to look at exactly what it means to “disturb another person. There are two ways disturbing another person can be fulfilled, it presented a danger of immediate violence or been used for the purpose of disrupting lawful activities. People v. Superior Court (Commons) (1982), 135 Cal.App.3d 812, 817. If a police officer, or another person, such as a neighbor, ask you to stop making an unreasonable and loud noise and you do not stop the court could imply you conduct to acting willfully and maliciously. Because the plea from the other was disregarded the jury or judge may see that the defendant charged with the crime. Also, because the person vocalized that the noise was annoying them and it continued it is possible that no both elements are satisfied. However, it commonly held that music cheering, laughing, and playing games are activities that are usually not considered to be disturbing the peace. This is so because it fails on the second element since it is not an immediate danger of violence and the purpose of those activities are not to disturb the peace. Thus, the second kind of disturbing the peace is any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.
The last form of conduct or behavior that could lead to a disturbing the peace charge involves the defendant using offensive words. The rule is stated as, “Any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction. California Penal Code 415. Like the other two behaviors, this one also has two elements. The elements broken down are as follows, (1) the defendant used offensive words which were inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction, and (2) those words were spoken in a public place. We will look at the first element and define what it exactly means to inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction. To fulfill this standard the speaker said something reasonably likely to provoke someone else to react violently, and when they made the statement, there was a clear and present danger that the other person would immediately erupt into violence. This aspect if fairly different from the other two behaviors or conduct that we had discussed earlier. Because it does not require that the person being charged have intent for an immediate violent reaction to being provoked, all it requires is that they think it is likely the reaction would happen in response to the offensive words. With this standard resent it makes it more difficult to give a specific rule on what is offensive and what is not. The judge or jury will look at this case by case for the most part. They need to see the context of the offensive words, the manner in which they were said, and what exactly was said to determine the outcome of what is reasonable likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction. However, it is often ruled that words that are profane, rude vulgar or disrespectful are generally not enough to charge one with disturbing the peace. In regards to the second element stating that “the words were spoken in a public place” is pretty similar to the first behavior that was discussed. Where if the words were said in one’s home, or private property the charge for disturbing the peace would not hold because it fails on the second element with it not being in a public place. However, if it took place at the bar from the example or outside it would fulfill the second element since this time it has taken place in public place. Thus, the last behavior or conduct is any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.
Defenses to a Disturbing the Peace Charge in San Diego
There are some possible defenses to a disturbing the peace charge. One is that you acted in self-defense or defense of another person. Another possibility is that you exercised your right of free speech, which is protected under the United States Constitution. In addition, there may be an applicable defense that one did not have required intent to be charged with this crime. Lastly, you were falsely accused and you never committed the crime and thus cannot be charged.
If someone was charged with the first conduct described as disturbing the peace where a person is fighting in public a defense to this charge would be self-defense or defense of another. To be able to use this defense one would have to fulfill all three of these elements, (1) you reasonably believe that you or another were in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or unlawful touching, (2) you reasonably believe that force is the only way to protect against that harm, and (3) you use no more force than is reasonably necessary to defend against the danger. CALCRIM 3470. Imminent danger means that was about to occur and not a future threat. If someone made a future threat against you, you could not use the self-defense as a defense. An example of an imminent threat would be someone holding a knife saying they are going to stab you for looking at them a certain way. A future threat would be someone saying they will stab you if they ever catch you looking at them a certain way again. The second example is not imminent and is not applicable to self-defense like the first example is. When we look at the second element we need to define what is reasonable. To see what is reasonable we would think of a reasonable person in a similar situation and circumstances, with similar knowledge and whether they would believe the only way to protect themselves was with the use of force. It is also taken into account if a person was harmed by the person in the past that they are claiming self-defense against. Because a reasonable person would be more likely to think that they would be in danger of being injured again. Lastly, the force must not be more than necessary than protecting one’s self, once you are no longer in danger the use of force must stop. Thus, an applicable defense to a charge of disturbing the peace would be self-defense.
Another applicable defense to disturbing the peace would be freedom of speech guaranteed under the First Amendment of the United States. This defense would be applicable to the second behavior we talked about, offensive words. If your words on a social issue or political movement it is most likely that they would be covered by the First Amendment defense if you were charged for disturbing the peace. An example would be you were participating in a political protest outside and had a sign that may be offensive to others with opposing views and you were yelling your ideas as people walked by you may have this defense. An example where the defense would not work is every time you see your neighbor you call her a derogatory name. This would not be an applicable defense because the social value is in no way present. In re John V. (1985) 167 Cal.App.3d 761, 767-8. There is also the “fighting words” rule where if the context around the words can be construed as fighting and one feels threatened by them then the freedom of speech defense would not be applied. In re Alejandro G. (1995) 37 Cal.App.4th 44, 50. Thus, freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the Undated States Constitution would be a possible defense to disturbing the peace.
In addition, lack of intent would be a possible defense to a disturbing the peace charge. If one did not act willfully, maliciously or with the intent of inciting violence then they are most likely not going to be found guilty of disturbing the peace. California Penal Code 415. The lack of intent to fighting in public was basically discussed as self-defense, if one fought in self-defense then they also did not have the appropriate intent. Without the intent, they cannot be charged with the crime. In regard to the unlawful and unreasonable noise, if one was not trying to annoy or disturb others with their conduct then it is unlikely that they are guilty of disturbing the peace. Lastly, with respect to the offensive words, if the person charged reasonably believed that the words would not cause a violent reaction then a lack of intent is a possible defense to the charge. Thus, if one lacks intent, which is acting willfully, maliciously or with the intent of inciting violence, then a lack of intent would be a defense.
The last defenses are that one was falsely accused of disturbing the peace. If one did not actually commit the crime they should not be charged or found guilty of it. There are a number of possibilities that could lead to this happening. Maybe there was a disagreement with a neighbor and they wanted revenge on you so they fabricate a story to try to have you charged with a crime. Or possibly someone just does not like and make up the crime for alternative reasons to get you into trouble with the law. Lastly, maybe you were confronted with a police officer and he did not like the tone you had with him, and he wanted to charge you with something. Thus, if you were falsely accused of disturbing the peace you should not be charged with it.
What are the Penalties to a Disturbing the Peace Charge in San Diego?
The penalty for a disturbing the peace varies on the specifics of one’s case. However, the statute outlines that a maximum penalty would be ninety (90) days in a county jail. Or it is possible that one must only pay a fine which would total no more than four hundred dollars. Lastly, there is a possibility that there is a combination of the two penalties above, time served in a county jail, and a fine. In addition, there may be an informal probation. However, it is also possible that it may only be an infraction, if this is the case there will be no jail time and a maximum fine of two hundred and fifty dollars ($250). Thus, the penalty really depends on the specific of the case, but it can be charged as a misdemeanor or as an infraction.
A mitigating factor is something that may lessen the punishment if one is charged with this crime. One may be victim culpability. This would be more prominent in the fighting in public, if self-defense is not applicable, maybe the other party was also at fault and the court may lessen the punishment given. Or that the defendant has a lack of a criminal record. If the person being charged has not had a criminal record the court may look at it as a mistake was made and be lighter in the sentence is also a possibility. Lastly, it is possible that there were unusual circumstances. There is an array of situations that could qualify for this, but if the court feels sympathetic toward the situation there is a possibility of a lesser sentence. Thus, there are relevant mitigating factors.
Thus, disturbing the peace has three elements, multiple defenses, and penalties along with mitigating factors vary.
Best Defense in San Diego
If you are being charged in California under Penal Code 415, then you should contact an attorney immediately. We have handled over a thousand cases in San Diego County and at least 100 disturbing the peace cases. Call us today if you want to learn more about how you can beat your disturbing the peace charge. Please visit our website for more information about attorney Vik Monder and his track record of success here in San Diego on Disturbing the Peace charges.